By FRANK ELTMAN|
Associated Press Writer
RIVERHEAD, New York- Scott Nager was a retired New York City police officer, slain by two blows from a samurai sword that nearly decapitated him as he slept on his living room sofa.
His stepson, in a written and videotaped confession to detectives, cooly admits he inflicted the carnage to end years of abuse. "It had to be done," 19-year-old Zachary Gibian says in the confession.
This week, a jury in Suffolk County, east of New York City, will hear testimony to decide if Gibian is a cold-blooded murderer who was fed up with his stepfather's disciplinary tactics, as prosecutors contend, or whether the defendant's stepfather had persecuted him to such a degree that the boy had no other option but to kill him.
A defense attorney claims the victim was an abusive "monster" who made the teenager wear a Nazi soldier's helmet and salute a portrait of Adolf Hitler, a contention prosecutors and the victim's father vehemently reject.
Opening statements are scheduled to begin as early as Monday in what is expected to be a gruesome trial. Several jurors asked to be removed after being told by state Supreme Court Justice Robert Doyle that they would be submitted to graphic testimony and grisly crime scene photos.
The focus of the trial will be on Gibian's actions on Feb. 27, 2005.
On that morning, he slashed his stepfather to death and hitched a ride from a friend to a nearby lake to ditch the sword and other incriminating evidence. It turned out the lake was frozen, so the two teens instead stashed the items in a trash bin behind a shopping mall _ where police found the items after Gibian confessed.
The friend _ Troy "T.J." Harrelson, son of former New York Mets baseball star Bud Harrelson _ has admitted to prosecutors he helped his friend dispose of the sword and other items. He is expected to testify at the trial and plead guilty to hindering prosecution.
"I told him that it had to be done," Gibian wrote in his confession, describing his conversation with Harrelson. "When I said that to him, he knew I was gonna kill my stepfather because I've spoken to him about it before." In the videotaped statement, he says of Harrelson, "He knew, but he didn't know."
Gibian also informed detectives that he told his mother, Laura Nager, about what he planned to do.
"I couldn't handle all the stuff piling up with him," Gibian said in his written confession. "I told my mother that I was going to kill him. She asked me if I thought this was the right thing to do. I said that in my heart this is the right thing. This way there would be no more abuse and we could still live comfortably.
"My mother went upstairs. I went into the garage and got a sword."
Laura Nager, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has not been charged with any crime. Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti said prosecutors were not commenting on the mother's involvement. Her attorney, Steven Wilutis, did not return a telephone message seeking comment, but has denied Laura Nager was involved.
Shortly after Gibian's arrest, defense attorney William Keahon said in court that Scott Nager was a "despicable" person who kept a stockpile of weapons. He claimed Nager used his extensive collection of military paraphernalia to taunt Gibian in an unrelenting effort at behavioral modification.
"He'd make the kid wear a Nazi helmet and salute a picture of Hitler," the attorney said.
Keahon also said Nager, who was Jewish, would show Gibian a photo album with a swastika on the cover that contained dozens of graphic Holocaust pictures and threaten him: "This is what's going to happen to you and your mother if you don't do what I tell you to do."
In the leadup to the trial, however, Keahon has backed away from those comments and has repeatedly told reporters:
"Zach has confidence in the system, as I do. The jury, we believe, will reach the right verdict."
Scott Nager, 51, who retired from the NYPD in 1996 with a hand injury, was merely trying to control a rowdy teenager who was running around with a group of troublemakers, says the victim's 82-year-old father, Nathan Nager.
"When he was arrested, his mother was interviewed and said Zachary loves Scott, he called him dad," Nathan Nager said. "So where's this abuse stuff coming from?"
He said his son and daughter-in-law argued fiercely over Zachary's upbringing in recent years.
"Until he was 16, he was the greatest kid in the world. Then he became a wise guy," Nager said. "I'm not saying my son was an angel. He was a street cop. But he wanted his son to go away to college."
He also contended his son "wouldn't tolerate drug use" that his grandson allegedly was involved with.
"It was an assassination," Nager said as jury selection began last week. "He murdered in cold blood."