Jury begins deliberations in Aquebogue murder trial

After a nearly three-week trial and hearing from more than two dozen witnesses, jurors on Monday began deliberating whether to convict Dontila O’Mahony for the 2020 murder of Aquebogue resident Lee Pedersen.

“Lee Pedersen was more valuable to the defendant dead than alive,” assistant Suffolk County district attorney Frank Schroeder told jurors in his closing statements presented before Judge Timothy Mazzei.

In his closing statement, defense attorney Ira Weissman told the jury that there were gaps in the “most crucial part” of the case, including who was driving the getaway car, who entered Mr. Pedersen’s Aquebogue cottage and who ultimately pulled the trigger.

Mr. Pedersen, 69, was found dead of a single gunshot wound to the back of his head on March 8, 2020. Ms. O’Mahony is charged with second-degree murder and is also facing charges of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and second-degree attempted grand larceny for allegedly forging a copy of Mr. Pedersen’s will in the weeks following his death.

“You can’t speculate,” Mr. Weissman said to the jury of 10 men and two women, adding that the case presented by prosecutors is “riddled” with reasonable doubt.

One by one, Mr. Weissman attempted to discredit witnesses who testified throughout the trial, including Jaclyn Ewing, a woman who, at the time of Mr. Pedersen’s death, had been living in a tent in his backyard and was an admitted heroin user and sex worker.

Mr. Weissman also cast doubt on testimony from Theresa Sasala, a fellow inmate in the Suffolk County jail who testified that Ms. O’Mahony made verbal admissions to the crime while they lived together at the correctional facility.

The defense characterized her as a “jailbird” that simply used his client to be granted an early release from her sentence. “She knows how the game is played,” Mr. Weissman said.

Prosecutors however argued that the evidence presented in the case — which included video surveillance, DNA analysis, statements, cell phone records and more — was damning enough to link Ms. O’Mahony to the crime.

“Don’t let her deceive you,” Mr. Schroeder urged after reiterating that the defendant used and manipulated a web of people for her own gain.

One of those people, prosecutors said, was George Woodworth, a Neptune, N.J. man in his 70s who purchased the gun used in the killing and admitted to police to dismantling the weapon and discarding its parts in multiple dumpsters.

Earlier in the trial, he testified that Ms. O’Mahony borrowed his car and instructed him to stay home with her young daughter on the night Mr. Pedersen was killed. He claims he fell asleep on her couch and was woken up after 3 a.m. to her pleading with him to help her dispose of the gun. 

Mr. Woodworth also testified that when he got up to use the bathroom before he left, he saw blood.

The defense was critical of Mr. Woodworth’s testimony and methods used by Suffolk County police detectives who questioned him.

“He makes [the story] up over the course of a lengthy interrogation,” Mr. Weissman said, noting that he was first questioned by police for nine hours in December 2020 and for an additional four hours the following day.

Prosecutors contend that Mr. Woodworth was a “pathetic” victim of the defendants. The two reportedly met while she was working at a strip club and, after a sexual encounter, prosecutors said Mr. Woodworth began paying for everything from dinners and vacations to plastic surgery procedures, rent and tuition, “dutifully” heeding her every wish.

In his closing argument, Mr. Schroeder also focused on the “obsession” Ms. O’Mahony had with finding Mr. Pedersen’s will. Mr. Weissman has conceded that his client “took a left turn” and made a mistake by forging the will, but invoked a quote she reportedly told detectives and can be heard telling her adult son in one of hundreds of recorded phone calls she’s made from jail: “I know what I did and I know what I didn’t do. One thing has nothing to do with the other,” she said.

But prosecutors disagreed. “That is the kind of greed that makes people kill,” Mr. Schroeder said.

His closing statement was briefly disrupted as a male juror asked for a recess and was ultimately dismissed after suffering from an apparent anxiety attack. An alternate juror, also a man, will now serve as Juror No. 12. Deliberations are expected to continue Tuesday.