The retrial of a Central Islip woman accused of killing an Aquebogue man and forging his will to inherit his estate kicked off Monday as attorneys delivered competing narratives during their opening statements to a newly seated jury.
Donatila O’Mahony, 42, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and second-degree attempted grand larceny for the death of Lee Pedersen, 69, who was found dead in his Aquebogue home on March 8, 2020, from a single gunshot wound to his head.
“This was a crime of horrific violence. Lee Pedersen was executed in his own home,” Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Frank Schroeder told the jury of seven women and five men during his opening remarks, which stretched for more than an hour Monday. “This is also a crime of horrific greed.”
Defense attorney Ira Weissman cautioned that the narrative presented by prosecutors Monday doesn’t equate to evidence in the case. “That’s one hell of a story and a theory,” he said, arguing that there’s insufficient evidence to prove the prosecution’s claims that Ms. O’Mahony is responsible for Mr. Pedersen’s death.
“No one who saw him get shot is going to testify in this trial,” he said. “The people don’t know who killed him.”
Prosecutors, however, believe video surveillance footage captured in both the Riverhead and Central Islip areas on the night Mr. Pedersen died link Ms. O’Mahony to the crime via a dark-colored sedan with one distinguishing feature: a missing front hubcap.
Detectives ultimately traced that vehicle back to a 76-year-old Neptune, N.J. man named George Woodworth, who reportedly met Ms. O’Mahony more than a decade ago while she was working at a Manhattan strip club.
Prosecutors believe Ms. O’Mahony borrowed his car on the night of the murder and left her cell phone with him at her Central Islip home, where he was babysitting her young daughter, to avoid the phone “pinging” a tower near the crime scene.
Mr. Woodworth also admitted to purchasing two handguns for Ms. O’Mahony, one of which he later disposed of by taking it back to New Jersey, smashing it into pieces and disposing it in several dumpsters.
But Mr. Weissman, who portrayed Mr. Woodworth as being “obsessed” and “in love” with his client, said he lied to detectives to protect himself and is expected to testify against Ms. O’Mahony for a lenient sentence.
He also contends that detectives built their case to target Ms. O’Mahony. “[Mr. Woodworth] painstakingly … comes up with what [detectives] want to hear,” Mr. Weissman said, after an interrogation that lasted upwards of 10 hours. “[The police] were after her.”
Prosecutors said their relationship was just another example of the defendant manipulating people for her own gain. “She uses people until she gets what she needs … then she drops them,” Mr. Schroeder said.
Ms. O’Mahony was arrested following a nine-month investigation into Mr. Pedersen’s death on Dec. 28, 2020. Law enforcement authorities located Ms. O’Mahony with her daughter at John F. Kennedy airport, where they were awaiting a one-way flight to her native El Salvador.
Who ultimately pulled the trigger that night will remain a central question at the trial, which could last approximately three weeks.
In his opening statement, Mr. Schroeder noted that Ring doorbell footage subpoenaed from Ms. O’Mahony’s home revealed that the security system was disabled around 6 p.m. on the evening of Thursday, March 5, 2020, and did not come back online until Saturday, March 7.
Mr. Pedersen was found dead the following day, but prosecutors believe he was killed sometime between 10 p.m. on March 5 and 2:30 a.m. on March 6.
“The defendant made sure nobody would see who came to her house or left her house during that time period,” Mr. Schroeder said.
The trial will also include testimony regarding a counterfeit will Ms. O’Mahony filed in the months following Mr. Pedersen’s death.
Prosecutors maintain that Ms. O’Mahony knew she was listed as a beneficiary in the legal document set to inherit his Lynbrook home, worth more than $425,000, and decided to “speed up” the process.
“She couldn’t wait for her inheritance,” Mr. Schroeder said.
Unaware that police already had a copy of his will, which listed another close family 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. She also made several phone calls to both police detectives and close friends about the document.
The defense is not challenging the accusations of document forgery and attempted grand larceny. Mr. Weissman said her repeated inquiries about his will had less to do with inheritance and more to do with his funeral and burial.
“They were dear friends,” Mr. Weissman said, reiterating that the charges must be weighed separately. “Dona committed an egregious crime … As her lawyer, there’s no way around it,” he said. “She did an awful thing. But that’s not proof of murder.”
Ms. O’Mahony’s first trial was held in October and lasted three weeks. Jurors had just begun deliberations when Judge Timothy Mazzei declared the case a mistrial after a juror recognized someone in the parking who turned out to be a relative of the defendant’s.
If convicted on the top charge of murder, Ms. O’Mahony could face up to 25 years in prison.