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Manslaughter trial begins in case against Greenport man accused of causing fatal overdose

09/05/2019 7:18 AM |

The attorney for Lashawn Lawrence, the Greenport man accused of leading a drug ring that laced heroin with fentanyl, said Wednesday that there is “no direct line” of evidence to prove his client sold the drugs that caused the fatal overdose of 50-year-old Lawrence Yaccarino of Riverhead on Sept. 19, 2018.

He said Mr. Yaccarino could have used a number of drugs or medications that may have contributed to his death.

That defense was laid out during the opening day of testimony in the trial against Mr. Lawrence, who faces felony charges of second-degree manslaughter and fourth-degree conspiracy.

Assistant District Attorney Tanya Rickoff argued that Mr. Lawrence knew the dangers of the drugs he was selling and continued to sell them, resulting in Mr. Yaccarino’s death and in numerous overdoses of people who survived. The trial against Mr. Lawrence began Wednesday afternoon before Judge Anthony Senft in Riverside.

“Mr. Yaccarino’s death was caused by the reckless disregard by the defendant, who was peddling poison,” she said, adding that he “could not care less” that his customer died.

Mr. Lawrence waived his right to a jury trial, and the case will be decided by Judge Senft alone, allowing testimony from a number of witnesses.

In March, Mr. Lawrence was one of three people indicted by a Suffolk Grand Jury in the case of Mr. Yaccarino’s death. John Brophy, 49, of Riverhead, was charged with three counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree manslaughter, fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and fourth-degree conspiracy. Bryan Hale, 52, of Flanders, was charged with third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, fourth-degree conspiracy, first-degree criminal nuisance and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Prosecutors say Mr. Brophy, acting in concert with Mr. Hale, allegedly sold the drugs to Mr. Yaccarino and that Mr. Lawrence was allegedly Mr. Brophy’s supplier for the narcotics. Mr. Hale allowed drug deals to be made from his Riverhead auto repair shop on Lincoln Street, prosecutors said.

But in the last month, both Mr. Hale and Mr. Brophy have pleaded guilty and Carl Irace, Mr. Lawrence’s attorney, said that Mr. Brophy is on a list of possible witnesses for the prosecution who will testify in Mr. Lawrence’s case.

One of the keys to the case against Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Brophy came when police were able to seize Mr. Brophy’s cell phone and examine the calls and text messages on it.

In one text message, Mr. Brophy warns Mr. Lawrence that the drugs they were selling where causing people to overdose. Mr. Brophy revived one of those people twice by using Narcan, officials say. Despite this, the two men continued to sell the heroin-fentanyl mix.

In September 2018, the month Mr. Yaccarino died, Ms. Rickoff said three people overdosed on drugs purchased from Mr. Brophy and were revived with Narcan.

Ms. Rickoff brought several witnesses to the stand who either overdosed themselves on drugs allegedly purchased from Mr. Brophy or lived with someone who did.

All of them testified that they did not know Mr. Lawrence and had never seen him before seeing him in court Wednesday. They said they did know Mr. Brophy.

Mr. Irace, in his opening statement, said that Mr. Yaccarino had a history of overdosing, including three times in September 2018, that last one resulting in his death. He said it is merely speculation to say that Mr. Yaccarino overdosed on drugs purchased from Mr. Lawrence, because there is no direct link he was involved.

Sophia Benfey, Mr. Yaccarino’s fiancé, testified that he told her he used to shoot heroin from a needle and that the veins in his arms were “destroyed” as a result.

She said she presumed he smoked it after that. She said he had done both crack cocaine and heroin and also used suboxone for chronic pain he suffered from. He had told her at one point that he was no longer using drugs, but then he “had a slip” and overdosed in Sept. 2018 and was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center and revived. He told her he would not do it again, she said.

Ms. Benfey said she too had done heroin in the past, but was now sober.

Mr. Yaccarino overdosed on Sept. 13 and 15, 2018, and was revived. He overdosed again on Sept. 19, 2018, at their home in Riverhead. Ms. Benfey said she tried to revive him, and then gave way to the ambulance crew when they arrived, but that he was pronounced dead. There was blood and vomit coming out of his mouth when she found him, she said, and she called 911.

Mr. Irace asked Ms. Benfey if Mr. Yaccarino had used a number of prescription drugs, but she said she didn’t know.

A Riverhead woman also testified Wednesday, saying she bought drugs from Mr. Brophy but did not know Mr. Lawrence.

She said she herself had overdosed three times in one year and that the heroin purchased from Mr. Brophy in 2018 was “stronger” than what she usually used.

She said she overdosed on the drugs she bought from Mr. Brophy, but that she bought heroin from other people as well.

The overdose “scared me,” she said, but not enough to make her stop using the drug.

“I was addicted to heroin,” she said, claiming that she has now been “clean” for 101 days.

She said Mr. Yaccarino, who she knew, bought heroin from Mr. Brophy. Asked how she knew that, she said “I just know that.”

A Mattituck woman also testified that her husband, who has battled addiction for 20 years, bought heroin from Mr. Brophy and overdosed three times in one week in Sept. 2018, including one time when she revived him with Narcan. She said he bought the heroin from Mr. Brophy, and she called him and told him to stop selling her husband drugs.

The woman also testified that she did not know Mr. Lawrence and never saw him before seeing him in court Wednesday.

Ms. Rickoff also said a Southold man who crashed his car in Sept. 2018 while impaired by drugs, including fentanyl, had purchased the drug from Mr. Brophy. That man did not testify Wednesday.

The trial is scheduled to continue Thursday.

Caption: Mr. Lawrence, center, in his police mug shot along with Mr. Brophy, right and Mr. Hale, left, who have both pleaded guilty in the case.

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