By Tom Hays, The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - On a crisp fall night, John Malik and Manuel Chametla shared what should have been an unmemorable moment at the deli counter: a customer asking the clerk to cash a winning lottery ticket.
Instead, the clerk ended up dead, killed by a gun the customer always carried.
One witness says the blast was followed by Chametla asking, with his last breaths, "Why did he shoot me?"
No one can say for sure.
More than a week after the killing in a Queens neighborhood Oct. 18, authorities still haven't decided if Malik, a 60-year-old retired police detective who insists the gun went off accidentally, should face criminal charges. A spokesman for prosecutors would say only that the shooting remains under investigation.
Calls to Malik's attorney, John Murphy Jr., were not returned. Murphy has told reporters that his client was carrying the gun legally and didn't commit a crime. "It was a terrible accident," he said.
Chametla was only 18, a native of Mexico who had come to this country about two years ago. Once he earned enough money, Chametla hoped to return to his homeland to make a home with his girlfriend and 3-year-old son, his father said.
The young man "had a lot of dreams," Noe Chametla, 40, said last week at his son's wake. "This is not right."
Malik was a regular at the deli, where Noe Chametla had also worked. The father claimed the retired officer often would brag he still carried a pistol.
He "liked to point his finger and say, 'I'm the police. I'm going to shoot you,"' Noe Chametla said. "I didn't like that kind of game."
The father suspects Malik was flashing his gun when it discharged. But the retired officer, according to authorities, says he was reaching for his pager when he accidentally dropped his gun. As he fumbled to catch the weapon, it fired a single bullet into Chametla's chest.
The only other witness, a 16-year-old clerk named Felipe Santiago Villares, has given varying accounts.
Right after the shooting, Villares told investigators he was in the back of the deli when a gunshot rang out. He saw Chametla fall to the floor and heard Malik yell for someone to call 911.
In news reports, Villares was quoted as claiming Malik had jokingly threatened to shoot Chametla if he didn't serve him faster - a detail police say the witness left out of his initial version.
Villares said as Chametla lay bleeding behind the counter, he kept asking, "Why did he shoot me?" The victim died at the hospital about four hours later.
Many New York police officers who retire with clean records get permits to carry concealed weapons for personal protection. After a 29-year career, Malik left in 2002 with a license for a .380 millimeter handgun.
At a Queens funeral home last week, Noe Chametla fretted over how to pay to have his son's remains shipped back to Mexico. The consulate had offered $2,000; he was counting on donation jars at the deli to help cover approximately another $1,000 in funeral costs.
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"He was my only family," he said. "I have no other family."