The court-appointed attorney for a New York man charged with fatally shooting four people during a drugstore robbery for painkillers said Tuesday she fears for his safety, even behind bars.
"I think it's OK that he's in protective custody at this time," Mary Beth Abbate said of her client, David Laffer. "If they put him in the general population there's a lot of strong emotion running around. The jail is not immune to that. Yeah, I am concerned about his safety."
An assistant district attorney announced during a brief court proceeding Tuesday that a grand jury had formally indicted Laffer, although the specific charges in the indictment remained sealed until a date can be scheduled for a formal arraignment in state Supreme Court. Abbate said she thought that would happen in the coming days.
Laffer, 33, has been held without bail on suicide watch, or protective custody, in the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead since he and his wife were arrested June 22 during a raid on their Medford home. He has pleaded not guilty to preliminary charges of first-degree murder and resisting arrest.
He allegedly grabbed for an officer's weapon while being arrested and was later treated at a hospital for two black eyes and a bloody face from injuries suffered during the arrest.
Police officers returned to the couple's home on Tuesday afternoon to continue their investigation. Detective Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky, chief of the Suffolk homicide squad, told reporters that officers were looking for additional evidence from the robbery, where Laffer is suspected of filling a backpack with prescription painkillers.
Some investigators were seen scouring muck from storm drains near the Laffer property. It was not clear if anything was discovered.
"Hopefully, through the (pill) bottles we would be able to put them at the scene," Pelkofsky told reporters.
Laffer is suspected of entering Haven Drugs in Medford on a sunny Father's Day morning, and without announcing a robbery, opening fire on a pharmacist and his teen assistant, as well as two customers who happened upon the bloodbath, before fleeing.
The carnage was caught on surveillance video in the store. Authorities say Laffer was wearing a phony beard and covered his face with sunglasses and a baseball cap.
His wife, Melinda Brady, 29, was arrested on robbery and obstruction charges for allegedly driving the getaway car after the holdup and for trying to interfere with Laffer's arrest.
The same grand jury that indicted Laffer was believed to be considering additional or upgraded charges against Brady. A spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney declined to comment, noting grand jury proceedings are required to be held in secret. Brady's Legal Aid attorney indicated last week that she was willing to testify before the grand jury, but a woman in the Legal Aid office said Tuesday that he was not accepting messages from the media.
After her arrest, Brady told reporters her husband had committed the killings; Abbate said she believed Brady was cooperating with prosecutors in a bid to face lighter charges than her husband.
"Robbery is a lot less than murder. She's cooperating," Abbate said. "That's the only reasonable explanation to my knowledge." The district attorney's spokesman also declined to comment on Abbate's contention.
The killings, the worst in Suffolk County since 1974's "Amityville Horror" murders in which six members of the same family were slain as they slept, has ignited strong emotions in Medford and throughout Long Island. A large and growing memorial to the four victims, including photos, candles, flowers and other mementos, has sprung up on the sidewalk outside the pharmacy.
Abbate described her client as "overwhelmed."
"He's never been arrested before; he's in protective custody," she said. "That's not to minimize the pain of the families. I understand their pain totally."
Abbate contended that although her client is on suicide watch, "he's not suicidal. Anybody arrested for the first time is overwhelmed. When you're arrested on a murder charge and you're put in protective custody you can just imagine what a person is going through."
Police said that both Laffer and his wife were high on drugs when they were arrested, but Abbate declined to comment on his physical condition, other than to say he was not being treated for withdrawal from any substance. She declined to comment on whether she thought police beat her client when he was arrested, but referred a number of times to the facial injuries he suffered when he was arrested.
Brady was hospitalized overnight last week for an undisclosed medical condition. She previously wrote on a website that she was having difficulty dealing with painkillers. Her scheduled court appearance Tuesday was postponed until July 15, although she could be in court before then if a grand jury returns upgraded or additional charges against her.