Cristobal Veliz, brother and codefendant of Narcy Novack.
Fort Lauderdale police were incompetent and the former Broward County medical examiner was a “lunatic” for concluding that Bernice Novack’s death was an accident, a defense attorney told jurors Wednesday.
“You don’t have to be a high-school graduate to know that woman was murdered,” said Larry Sheehan, whose client, Cristobal Veliz, is accused with his sister, Narcy Novack, of arranging the hit on the 86-year-old former model and her son, Ben Novack Jr.
Bernice Novack, who was once married to the builder of the Fontainebleau hotel, suffered five vicious wounds to her face, broken teeth and a skull that was bashed so violently that there were imprints from the weapon on her face. Despite the beating, investigators said Novack managed to drag herself from her garage into her home, where she collapsed and died in a pool of blood. Her body was found the next morning, April 6, 2009, by her son, who would suffer a similar fate three months later.
Prosecutors contend that Narcy Novack engaged her brother in the plan to attack her husband and mother-in-law so that she could lay her hands on the family fortune.
One the confessed hit men, Alejandro Garcia, testified that Veliz paid him $1,000 to attack “the old lady,” and Garcia accepted, saying that it would be an “easy job.”
“What kind of an animal beats an 86-year-old woman with a monkey wrench?” Sheehan asked the Westchester County, N.Y. jury in his closing summation.
There was one point that both defense and federal prosecutors agreed upon: Fort Lauderdale police bungled Bernice Novack’s case and former Medical Examiner Joshua Perper inexplicably ruled that she died from a series of falls.
Perper has since retired, and Fort Lauderdale police — after reviewing the case twice — eventually reclassified the death a homicide when the killers confessed in 2010.
Garcia told investigators that Veliz and, by extension his sister, wanted “the old lady” beaten so badly that she would be incapacitated, thereby punishing her for allegedly encouraging her son to beat his wife. Garcia also claimed that Veliz said Bernice Novack had also once drugged Narcy and that when she woke up, she had new breast implants.
That story is so preposterous, Sheehan argued Wednesday, that the jury should disregard the statements of Garcia and his other accomplices, who testified for the government in hopes of getting lighter sentences.
Three months after the death of his mother, Ben Novack Jr., 52, was found bound and gagged with his eyes gouged in a hotel in Rye Brook, N.Y. where he had been overseeing a business convention. Prosecutors allege that his wife wanted him and his mother out of the way so she could control the family’s fortune, estimated at $10 million.
But Sheehan, and Narcy Novack‘s lawyer, Howard Tanner, claim that it was Narcy‘s daughter, May Abad, 36, who orchestrated the murders and convinced the killers to lie so that her mother would go to jail and her teenage sons would inherit the entire estate.
U.S. Assistant Prosecutor Andrew Dember concluded his two-day summation earlier Wednesday, and immediately afterward, Veliz stood up in the courtroom and announced he wanted a plea deal, telling the judge that his lawyer, Sheehan, failed to let him tell the jury “the whole story" behind what happened.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth M. Karas, however, pointed out that it was too coincidental that Veliz decided “all of a sudden” to change his plea after Dember had just laid a powerful case for his guilt in front of the jury.
“Don’t make things up that are absurd,” Karas said, telling Veliz it was too late to change gears after 10 weeks of testimony.
Tanner then tried unsuccessfully to get a mistrial, claiming that Veliz seemed to be implying he had evidence that could exonerate his sister.
Karas told Veliz and Tanner to argue their issues on appeal — after the jury issues their verdict.
The panel could get the case as early as Thursday.