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Jurors hear opening statements in trial of woman accused of killing Aquebogue man, forging his will

A Suffolk prosecutor painted the woman accused of killing an Aquebogue man in 2020 as a manipulative predator who uses people for her own gain during an opening statement of the murder trial Wednesday.

Donatila O’Mahony, who is also identified in court records as Donatila Alvarez, is charged with second-degree murder, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and second-degree attempted grand larceny for the 2020 death of Lee Pedersen, who was found dead in his home on March 9, 2020 from a single gunshot wound to his head.

“This was a crime of horrific violence. Lee Pedersen was executed in his own home,” said Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Frank Schroeder during his opening remarks to the jury of 10 men and two women. “This is also a crime of horrific greed.”

Mr. Schroeder presented a narrative of the case he’ll build against Ms. O’Mahony, 42, during the estimated three-week trial before Judge Timothy Mazzei in Riverside. He alleged that Ms. O’Mahony knew she was named as a beneficiary in Mr. Pedersen’s will, set to inherit his Lynbrook home worth more than $400,000. 

“This defendant decided to speed up the process,” Mr. Schroeder said, adding that she became “fiendish” over the will in the weeks following his death.

Unaware that police already had a copy of his will, which listed another “close friend” as the executor that would inherit his Aquebogue home, Ms. O’Mahony later produced her own version of the document that instead named her executor and left both the Lynbrook and Aquebogue residences in her name.

Mr. Schroeder returned several times to the phrase “I didn’t come to this country to be poor,” which he said are the defendant’s own words, during his statement that spanned more than an hour.

Ms. O’Mahony is a native of El Salvador. At the time of her December 2020 arrest, she was found at John F. Kennedy International Airport with her young daughter and a pair of one-way tickets to the Central American country.

“Unfortunately for Lee Pedersen, these were the words of the defendant for him to die by,” Mr. Schroeder said.

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As defense attorney Ira Weissman addressed the jury during his remarks, he conceded that while his client “took a wrong turn” and forged the will, her intent was far from nefarious.

Instead, Mr. Weissman argued that Ms. O’Mahony, whom he frequently referred to as “Dona,” grew concerned that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Pedersen would not receive a proper burial. “This was a dear friend of hers,” he told jurors, explaining that as the reason his client asked investigators about his will.

Prosecutors, however, said greed was a motivating factor in the incident, though Ms. O’Mahony initially told police she wasn’t looking for money as her late husband left her “well off” after his death in 2017.

Court records and an obituary published online show she had been married to attorney William O’Mahony, who died suddenly March 11, 2017 at the age of 49. Mr. O’Mahony had a practice focused in commercial law and insurance litigation in Brooklyn.

Ms. O’Mahony inherited an estimated $1.5 million from a life insurance policy of his, though prosecutors alleged she spent the money on houses and a Tesla.

Mr. Pedersen and his longtime partner Eileen Flynn. (Courtesy of Tracy Flack)

Mr. Weissman emphasized that statements presented by prosecutors Wednesday are not evidence and urged jurors to “snap out of” the story and theories they had previously heard. “You have to keep an open mind,” the defense attorney said.

In addition to the forgery of Mr. Pedersen’s will, the trial will focus on the circumstances surrounding his murder, specifically between Thursday, March 5 and Sunday, March 8 of 2020.

Though Ms. O’Mahony is charged for his death, her defense attorney said the prosecution lacks evidence linking her to the slaying. “They have no direct evidence as to who shot Lee Pedersen,” Mr. Weissman said.

The defense contends that George Woodworth, a Neptune, N.J. man in his 70s, and another close friend of Ms. O’Mahony’s, was “given a pass” by prosecutors in exchange for information about the incident.

Prosecutors allege that in 2019, Ms. O’Mahony asked Mr. Woodworth to purchase a handgun for her, citing that she was a single mom living in a dangerous Central Islip neighborhood. She later told him that she was anxious and depressed and shared with Mr. Woodworth that she wanted to kill Mr. Pedersen after accusing him of drugging and raping her.

Mr. Woodworth allegedly visited Ms. O’Mahony in Central Islip in March 2020. Prosecutors said she asked to use his car while he remained at her residence to babysit her daughter. Mr. Schroeder said she reportedly left her cell phone with him, which could explain why her cell phone never pinged a tower out east.

Around 2:15 a.m. on Friday, March 6, prosecutors said home surveillance cameras along Meetinghouse Creek Road in Aquebogue captured footage of Mr. Pedersen’s pickup truck driving back and forth “several times” and being followed by a dark four-door sedan that was eventually traced to Mr. Woodworth.

Fifteen minutes later, the sedan was seen leaving the area and further investigation showed it returned to the Central Islip area around 3 a.m.

Mr. Woodworth reportedly told police that when Ms. O’Mahony returned to the residence after 3 a.m., she was anxious and said she needed his help. 

Ms. O’Mahony allegedly handed him a plastic supermarket bag containing the 9mm handgun and a box of bullets, prosecutors said. Mr. Woodworth has admitted that he took the gun back to New Jersey, smashed it into pieces and disposed of them in different dumpsters. He still had possession of the bullets in the grocery bag, which were turned over for police analysis that showed a mix of fingerprints belonging to Mr. Woodworth, Ms. O’Mahony and Mr. Pedersen.

Mr. Schroeder also noted in his opening statement that Ring doorbell footage subpoenaed from Ms. O’Mahony’s home revealed that the security system was disabled around 6 p.m. Thursday, March 5 and kept off until Saturday, March 7.

Several witnesses began testifying Wednesday, including two acquaintances of Mr. Pedersen’s, a Riverhead Town police officer who first responded to the scene and Suffolk County Police detective assigned to the case.

Mr. Woodworth is expected to testify at some point during the trial along with at least one fellow inmate from the Suffolk County Correctional Facility.

Earlier Wednesday, Judge Mazzei ruled that portions of statements the defendant made to the fellow inmate would be admissible during the trial.

That inmate is expected to testify about statements Ms. O’Mahony allegedly made to her that reference shooting Mr. Pedersen in the head and killing him. She has been held without bail at the Riverside facility since her arrest.

Mr. Schroeder also alleged that she had help from “her goons” in the MS-13 street gang and plans to play recorded phone calls she made from jail during which she asks her son to erase data on a cell phone and tells someone on the other line that she isn’t a “snitch.”

Nearly a dozen of Mr. Pedersen’s friends, relatives and neighbors watched Wednesday’s proceedings from the courtroom gallery as did two friends of the defendants.

The SCPD detective is expected to continue testifying Thursday.

If fully convicted, Ms. O’Mahony could face life in prison.