WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Closing arguments in the murder trial of a former Hialeah stripper-turned-millionaire’s wife were temporarily derailed Monday when her lawyer called for a mistrial.
The Narcy Novack murder trial, now entering its 10th week, was recessed at midday as her attorney scrambled to get a witness back to the courtroom to testify. Her lawyer, Howard Tanner, claimed that the witness, a hotel manager, changed his testimony after he was intimidated by prosecutors last week.
The hotel manager, Jeremy Morris, testified for the defense, saying that upon finding her husband’s body, Narcy Novack was crying and screaming hysterically. His testimony seemed to bolster the idea that Novack was shocked to find her husband, Ben Novack Jr., a Fort Lauderdale convention planner, beaten to death in their Westchester County, N.Y., hotel room. Had she been involved with the crime, according to Tanner, she would not have appeared so distraught.
But Morris testified for the defense, federal prosecutors pulled him aside before cross-examining him in front of the jury. Morris was taken to a room in the courthouse where he told prosecutors that he felt Narcy Novack was being “overly dramatic” that morning, July 12, 2009.
Prosecutors then returned to court and, during while cross-examining Morris, got him to admit that Novack appeared to be faking her tears.
Tanner later questioned Morris about his change in testimony, and learned about the secret meeting with prosecutors.
“Everybody knows you don’t talk to a sworn witness between direct examination and cross [examination],” Tanner told U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas.
At the very least, prosecutors should have informed Tanner that they had spoken to him so that he could have brought that out in front of the jury to show that prosecutors may have influenced Morris.
But Karas ruled that the move by prosecutors did not breach any ethical or legal principles, calling it “a harmless” mistake by prosecutors. Karas did, however, allow Tanner to recall Morris to the stand so that he can question him about the meeting with prosecutors.
Morris will be recalled Tuesday morning, followed by closing arguments. The jury could get the case by Wednesday.
Narcy and Ben Novack had been staying at the Hilton Rye Town hotel, tending to a conference he was holding at the hotel as part of his business, Convention Concepts Unlimited. The couple, who live in Fort Lauderdale, had been married for 19 years.
Narcy Novack, 55, and her brother, Cristobal Veliz, 58, are accused of masterminding a murder-for-hire plot that ended with the deaths of Ben Novack Jr. and of his mother, Bernice Novack, 86, three months earlier. Ben Novack’s father built the famous Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach.
The two hired hit men testified earlier that Veliz paid them to attack the mother and son. The attacks were so brutal that they died. Ben Novack’s body was found bound, gagged and beaten, with his eyes gouged out. The killers said Narcy Novack let them into the hotel room, watched as they pounded him with hand weights, then handed them a pillow to muffle his screams.
Bernice Novack, once the queen of the Fontainebleau, was beaten to death with a monkey wrench after being ambushed in the garage of her Fort Lauderdale home.
Prosecutors allege that Narcy Novack believed that her husband, who was having an affair with another stripper and porn star, was going to leave her and that she would be deprived of his riches.
Defense attorneys, however, have pointed the blame at Narcy Novack’s daughter, May Abad, whose sons stand to inherit the family estate should Narcy be convicted.
Abad, 36, has not been charged with a crime, has denied having anything to do with the murders, and passed a lie detector test.