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Cell phone dispute led to altercation that left 65-year-old man dead, family says; suspect held on $150K bail

A man accused of a Jan. 2 assault that led to the victim’s death three days later was ordered held on $150,000 cash bail or $300,000 bond.

Daniel Hughes, 38, whom police described as homeless, was charged Tuesday with second-degree assault in a case that Suffolk County police say led to the death of Wayne Sapiane, 65, also described as homeless, but who relatives say was living with various friends.

Mr. Sapiane was punched in the head on West Main Street and was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center, then moved to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, where he died Jan. 5, police said.

Theresa Martin, the mother of Mr. Sapiane’s 27-year-old son, Taylor, said outside court that the dispute concerned a cellphone, and that Mr. Sapiane had mistakenly taken the wrong cellphone from a charging station. He was in the process of returning it to Mr. Hughes when he was attacked and punched repeatedly, she said.

Mr. Hughes pleaded not guilty at his arrangement before Riverhead Justice Lori Hulse Wednesday morning. His court-appointed attorney, John Halverson, said his client wanted a jury trial. 

But assistant district attorney Eric Aboulafia said Mr. Hughes had made an oral statement and a 45-minute video statement to police saying at one point that he “knocked out” Mr. Sapiane.

In addition, Mr. Aboulafia said, a portion of the attack was captured on a surveillance camera.

Judge Hulse said the case would go before a Suffolk grand jury Friday, where the charges could be upgraded.

Mr. Hughes has a criminal record that is 43 pages long, and has 31 arrests and 21 convictions, including several cases that are still open, the ADA said. Mr. Hughes was arrested in December and charged with two misdemeanors following a domestic dispute, according to Riverhead police. On three occasions, according to Judge Hulse, he has not shown up for a court appearance. 

Mr. Sapiane’s friends and relatives were not happy with the bail amount or with the charge.

“How dare they let that piece of [expletive] out on bail,” Ms. Martin said outside court, although he is currently being held on bail. “He knew what he was doing, it was not an accident. He should be charged with murder.”

Ms. Martin called it a “vicious attack.”

She said she hopes Mr. Hughes “never sees the light of day again.”

Mr. Sapiane, the brother of longtime WLNG radio disc jockey Gary Sapiane, was described as a “free spirit” who would help anyone in need.

He was an accomplished guitar player and surfer, Ms. Martin said.

“It kills me inside to see that he could walk away,” Taylor Sapiane said of Mr. Hughes outside court. “My father was always a kind and loving person who would never hurt a soul.”