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NY pharmacy shooting suspect pleads not guilty

Image: David Laffer faces charges of first-degree murder
David Laffer, is escorted out of a police station in Patchogue, N.Y., on Thursday. Laffer and his wife, Melinda Brady, were arrested Wednesday in connection with the Father's Day massacre of four people at the Haven Drugs in Medford, N.Y.Seth Wenig / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two years ago, they posed for a wedding photo: Him beaming broadly in a dark suit, she a pudgy fresh-faced bride. They soon started a promising life together in the suburban New York home where he was raised.

Police mug shots of David Laffer and Melinda Brady released Thursday portrayed an altogether different couple: Gaunt, stone-faced suspects charged with a drug-store robbery and the killings of two pharmacy employees and two customers on Father's Day.

Laffer, 33, a former soldier, pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder in the shooting deaths of four people at a Long Island pharmacy during a robbery for painkillers.

He was ordered held without bail.

Describing the killingsSuffolk County Assistant District Attorney John Collins called the shooting at Haven Drugs "the most cold-blooded robbery-homicide in Suffolk County history." He said the methodical killings were captured on surveillance video.

Laffer, his wife waiting outside in the car, went into the pharmacy and commenced the carnage, Collins said.

"He did not announce a robbery," Collins said at the arraignment. "He simply shot first after engaging the pharmacist in conversation."

The pharmacist, Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach, was shot once in the abdomen. Prosecutors say Laffer then aimed his .45-caliber handgun and shot 17-year-old store clerk Jennifer Mejia, killing her.

Laffer, the prosecutor said, then fired two more fatal shots at the pharmacist before two customers, 71-year-old Bryon Sheffield and 33-year-old Jamie Taccetta, walked into Haven Drugs without a clue about what was happening.

"He came up behind them and simply executed them by shooting them in the back of the head," Collins said.

Seven bullets fired, four people dead.

The prosecutor said Laffer left with a backpack full of painkillers "of the hydrocodone family," and fled with his wife back to their home about a mile and a half away.

Blackened eyesLaffer had two black eyes and bruises all over his face during his arraignment on first-degree murder charges, where a court-appointed attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf and argued for a reasonable bail.

A police complaint says Laffer sustained the injuries when he grabbed for a police officer's weapon during a raid at his Medford home on Wednesday. He was tackled to the ground and placed in handcuffs, the complaint said.

Brady, 29, now many pounds lighter than her wedding photo, was being treated at a hospital for an undisclosed ailment, forcing authorities to temporarily postpone her arraignment. She is charged with robbery and obstructing governmental administration, although a prosecutor said Thursday that upgraded charges were likely.

Both were high on drugs when they were arrested, police said. Laffer left behind fingerprints, Collins said, one of several keys in his eventual capture.

A print was matched to those on file in the Suffolk County Police Department from a pistol license permit Laffer had obtained several years ago, authorities said. Police also found other weapons and ammunition during a search of Laffer's home.

Brady was accused of driving Laffer to the drug store before he walked in and started firing, officials said. He wore a fake beard, glasses, baseball hat and loose sweat shirt to disguise himself, they said.

'He did it,' wife saysBrady was hospitalized Thursday but police would not say why. She was charged with robbery and obstructing governmental administration, it's not clear when she would be arraigned. She told reporters earlier that "he did all of this" for her.

A surveillance photo released by Suffolk County Police, Monday, June 20, 2011 shows a suspect in the killings of four people at Haven Drugs in Medford, N.Y. Investigators believe that a single gunman was responsible for the shooting of two employees and two customers inside the pharmacy, Sunday, June 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Suffolk County Police) Suffolk County Police

"He was doing it because he lost his job and I was sick," Brady said as she was led from Suffolk police headquarters in Yaphank early Thursday morning.

"He did it. He did all of this," Brady, 29, told reporters. She seemed addled and disheveled in an over-sized yellow T-shirt and black shorts.

Laffer expressed surprise early Thursday morning when reporters asked what he thought about his wife blaming him, although his response was inaudible.

Brady had several surgeries on her mouth in the year before their January 2009 wedding, according to posts she made on the website Long Island Weddings. She told fellow brides-to-be on the site that she was in severe pain and taking different types of painkillers.

"I only take it if I really have to," one post read. "I really hate taking them."

She wrote that Laffer and her family were supportive, but it was taking a toll on her relationships.

"I have been on pills after pills for this infection and it won't go away," she wrote. "I am not a depressed person or anything before this all happened. I was happy." Neither Laffer nor Brady had a previous criminal record.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said that Laffer's name was also on a list at the pharmacy of people who had filled prescriptions in the past. The couple was high when they were arrested Wednesday, he said.

Friends, neighbors stunnedThe intense manhunt for the suspects in the worst mass killing in Suffolk County since six family members were slain in the 1974 "Amityville Horror" killings, generated more than 400 tips from a community on edge since Sunday, police said.

Laffer, who a few years ago proposed to his now-wife at a New York Islanders hockey game, said nothing as he was led from police headquarters Thursday wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Laffer served in the Army from 1994 until 2002 and attained the rank of private first class, said Mark Edwards, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in Fort Knox. While in the service, he worked as an intelligence analyst.

Laffer reportedly worked at a Yaphank warehouse, although his wife told reporters he was currently unemployed. A spokesman for the company where Laffer had worked did not immediately comment.

Friends and neighbors said they did not believe Laffer, whom they described as polite and friendly, was the shooter. They said if there were drug problems, they did not see it. He lived at his family's home in Medford with his mother, Pam, and his wife.

According to their wedding announcement, Laffer and his future wife met while they were out to dinner with mutual friends, and he proposed to her at an Islanders game. Next-door neighbor Trish Bohlert attended the wedding and said Laffer was always friendly.

"Something must have made him snap, because his personality, I can't picture him robbing a store, much less hurt people," she said.

Zaida Ayala, a longtime neighbor, said Laffer is "a guy that I feel comfortable with, a guy that I could be out, 1 o'clock in the morning in my backyard, and he could be in his backyard and I wouldn't run inside and go get my husband."

She said she does not believe he is the shooter.

"You could give me a million dollars to pick somebody and he would be the last person I would've picked," she said.

'Nobody has the answer'Police Commissioner Richard Dormer was at a loss to explain the actions of a suspect who had no criminal record or history of violence.

"It is very difficult to comprehend this," he said. "To suddenly engage in this type of violent behavior is beyond understanding. It doesn't make sense. I don't have the answer. Nobody has the answer."

His Facebook page showed he was interested in weapons and science fiction. He lists himself as a fan of the conspiracy-based science fiction drama "Dark Skies" and the Spike TV show "Deadliest Warrior." He also lists the Springfield XD, a type of pistol, among his interests.

The shootings happened Sunday at about 10:20 a.m. inside Haven Drugs, a pharmacy in a small cluster of medical offices in Medford, about 60 miles east of New York City.

Laffer came to Haven Drugs before as a customer, The New York Times said, but Ferguson may not have recognized him because of his disguise.

"We know this arrest won't bring back Raymond, Jennifer, Bryon and Jamie, but we're hoping this will provide some sense of closure to the victims' families," Dormer said. "We are also hoping this gives the community piece of mind that this violent individual is behind bars."

It was the worst mass killing in Suffolk County since 1974, when a man shot six relatives to death in Amityville, a crime that spawned horror films and a book after the family's home was said to be haunted.

At the pharmacy, about a mile and a half away from the Laffer home, bouquets of fresh flowers, and stuffed animals lined the shuttered storefront. A sign read, "closed until further notice."