Inside the courtroom: OLP gunman convicted Peter Troy to be sentenced July 30

      The jurors took less than two hours to return guilty verdicts on two counts of first-degree murder, four counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder, after six days of testimony, which weighed heavily against Troy.
      When the verdicts were read, members of Tosner's family present in the courtroom loudly gasped as Troy turned and looked at them. The guilty verdicts were expected, as Troy had little defense and ultimately blamed his neighbor for committing the shootings and framing him.
      "There was never a question about the verdict," said Nassau County Police Detective Brian Parpan.
      The following account captures the gavel-to-gavel drama of the case during the past week.

Opening statements
      The trial began on the afternoon of June 17. The prosecuting attorney, Assistant District Attorney Frank Schroeder, and defense attorney James McCormack waited as the jury, comprising eight women and four men, filed into the courtroom of Nassau County Court Judge Daniel J. Cotter in Mineola. For the first time in all of Troy's court appearances, he turned and, showing no emotion, scanned the courtroom.
      Ken Penzes of Farmingdale was there for his brother, the Rev. Larry Penzes, whom Troy shot down as Penzes finished the homily during morning Mass on March 12, 2002. Mary Beth Tosner and her daughter, Meagan, were there for their mother-in-law and grandmother, Eileen, who was praying when another of the gunman's bullets took her life. It was now Troy's life that weighed in the balance.
      In what would prove to be the first of many surprises in this case, McCormack declined to give an opening statement. Addressing Judge Cotter, he stated that in light of his client's mental and psychological history, he thought it best to give Troy the opportunity to hear the witnesses and the evidence and then have him reconsider his defense. Against his attorney's advice, Troy had refused to plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
      "The time for considering defense is not in the middle of a trial," Cotter told McCormack. The request was denied. Cotter similarly denied a request from NBC to allow the trial to be covered by audio and/or visual means.
      The judge reminded the jurors of the charges against Troy -- two counts of first-degree murder, four counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder. The last charge relates to the stabbing of a police officer when Troy was apprehended.
      Schroeder's poignant opening statement was directed at the jurors, who stole occasional glances at Troy. He sat expressionless.
      "On March 12, 2002, Father Larry Penzes and Eileen Tosner were praying to their God, asking for peace and solace in their lives, when that peace was shattered by that man," Schroeder said, pointing to Troy.
      Schroeder detailed the events of that day, describing Penzes as a young and vibrant pastor of a young and vibrant church who was walking across the altar when a bullet fired from a .22 caliber rifle pierced his back and tore into his lungs. For all intents and purposes, Penzes died on his altar, Schroeder said. OLP parishioners in the courtroom unashamedly wiped away tears.
      Schroeder described Tosner as a wife, mother and grandmother who attended Mass daily and tragically died when a bullet entered the back of her skull, perforated her brain and exited her left eye. She died instantly. Her daughter-in-law and granddaughter were visibly shaken as they listened to the details of her death.
      The prosecution proceeded, calling its first witness.

Deacon Aniello Squitieri
      OLP's deacon, Aniello Squitieri, was assisting Penzes at Mass the morning of the murders. He described seeing a man in a tan trenchcoat enter the church, only to leave a moment later. He told the court that the man did that several times until parishioner Gerard Denk, who was seated in the last pew that morning, finally got up and stood at the back of the church. There Denk looked over his shoulder into the vestibule and monitored the man's actions. Squitieri said Penzes had just finished his homily and was walking back toward the chair next to his. He tearfully recounted what happened next.
      "As I bent down to pick up the Book of the Faithful, I heard shots," said Squitieri. "I hit the floor."
      The shots finally stopped, and as the deacon started to get up he heard Penzes call out to him, "Neil, I'm shot. I'm shot. I'm shot, help me. Help me. Help me..."
      Squitieri said he crawled over to Penzes and tried to find his wound. He told the priest to hang on and not to be afraid. Then he placed the priest's head down gently and ran to the sacristy to call for an ambulance. He shouted into the phone, "Please come quickly, a priest has been shot! Please come quick!"
      Although Squitieri did not specifically identify Troy as the gunman, he described the man who entered the church that morning as a white male, of average height, wearing glasses and a tan trenchcoat.

Detective James Hutchison
      Schroeder next called Detective James Hutchison of the Nassau County Police Department Crime and Search Section to the stand. Hutchison recounted how he arrived at OLP at 11:14 a.m. the morning of the shootings. His job was to conduct an in-depth search of the crime scene and to photograph and videotape the scene before any evidence was removed. Schroeder suggested to Mary Beth Tosner that she might want to leave the courtroom while the tape was played, but Tosner decided to stay, though she moved to the back row of the gallery. The court was silent and Troy sat stoically as the tape of the devastation inside OLP was played.
      The camera captured the six empty shell casings found in the vestibule of the church, zoomed in on a bullet hole in the wall behind the altar and eerily focused on Tosner's fallen pocketbook, lying on its side in the aisle. Hutchison noted the single eyeglass lens lying near the pocketbook, but he could do nothing to warn of the gruesome image that followed as a yellow plastic sheet was removed and Tosner's blood-drenched face filled the screen. Her daughter-in-law gasped and Troy began to rock distractedly in his chair.
      The scene then shifted to the altar, where the vestment and shoes Penzes wore had been left in a pile by the emergency team that tried to save his life. It was only when the camera followed the movement of the bullets and where they lodged that Troy turned to face the screen, appearing to take an interest in the presentation.
      It was determined that six shots were fired, but to date only four bullets have been recovered. One of them shattered a glass vase in a closet behind the altar.
      Hutchison went on to testify that the red Plymouth Sundance, first seen by witnesses parked in front of the church moments before the shootings, was found across the street from 56 Fowler Ave., the defendant's home, where he barricaded himself after fleeing the church. The car was registered to Troy and a search warrant was obtained. The search uncovered two spent bullet casings, a box of .22 caliber cartridges, a red backpack, an empty rifle box, two safety locks for a rifle, another box of ammunition, the owner's manual for the rifle and a gas can. Additionally, detectives found a receipt for a .22 caliber rifle, purchased from Britt Firearms in Mineola.
      At this point in Hutchison's testimony, several jurors looked over at Troy, who was staring at the screen, unaware of their glances.
      In his cross-examination, McCormack asked Hutchison if the defendant's car keys were ever recovered. They were not.

Gerard Denk
      In what was perhaps the most heart-wrenching testimony, the state called Gerard Denk, the parishioner who wrestled Troy to the floor of OLP's vestibule after the shooting.
      Denk, a Vietnam veteran, has a severe speech impediment, and the judge allowed his wife, Louise, to serve as his translator during his testimony. Denk described how, on the morning of the murders, he arrived at OLP and saw a small red car careen up to the sidewalk outside the church.
      "The car pulled up fast and stopped, and I saw a man in a trenchcoat," sobbed Denk, rubbing the tears from his eyes. "He ran up the front steps and a couple of seconds later he ran back down again, got into he car and took off."
      Denk explained how he sat in the last pew of the church and, a few minutes later, the church doors opened and he saw the man in the trenchcoat again, this time walking back and forth in the vestibule. Distracted by the suspicious-looking man, Denk got up and stood at the back of the church, watching the man through the window of one of the vestibule doors.
      "A moment later, the double doors of the church opened and I saw him pull a rifle from under his trenchcoat, put it on his shoulder and start shooting," said Denk. "I went out the door on the right, into the vestibule. I ran as fast as I could but he heard me coming. The rifle was still aimed at the altar and I punched him and grabbed the rifle."
      Denk recounted the struggle that ensued, until Troy broke free and ran out of the church. Taking the rifle with him, Denk pursued Troy and followed him up Fowler Avenue, which runs adjacent to the church. When Troy ran inside the house at 56 Fowler Ave., Denk took cover. Ironically and unknowingly, Denk took cover behind Troy's car. Denk looked at Troy as he gave most of his testimony and identified him, without hesitation, as the man in the trenchcoat.

Police officers Michael Knatz and Nicholas Squicciarini
      Two members of the Nassau County Police Department's Bureau of Special Operations spoke separately, yet gave facts and instances that corroborated the events of the fateful morning. Officers Michael Knatz and Nicholas Squicciarini are part of the police tactical team that handles hostage situations, raids and standoffs like the one that ensued when Troy barricaded himself at 56 Fowler Ave. for almost seven hours after the shootings.
      Knatz told the jurors how his team assembled at the home where Troy rented an upstairs room. Working with the hostage-negotiation team, they tried to get him to surrender, to no avail.
      "We used a bullhorn and a speaker system to contact Troy, but he did not respond," said Knatz. "We threw a phone into the house and told him we needed to talk to him, that no one else needed to get hurt and that we wouldn't hurt him."
      But Troy repeatedly threw the phone back out the front door at the officers, who were crouched behind the bushes in the front yard. Finally the team was given the order to charge the house, and they broke open the front door with a battering ram. Knatz was the first officer to enter the house, and ordered Troy to get down on the floor.
      "He looked at me and started to run toward the stairs," Knatz told the court. "He took one more step, turned to me and shouted, "I'm going to kill you all."
      Troy was wielding a knife and he stabbed at Knatz, hitting him in the right upper chest, just below his shoulder. The prosecution showed the bulletproof vest, and the knife tear in it, to a captivated jury. Troy, busily jotting notes on a legal pad, appeared unaffected by the testimony.
      Squicciarini, the third member of the team to enter the house, described in detail the struggle that took place between his fellow officer and Troy.
      "After Troy stabbed at Knatz, [Knatz's] shield fell to the ground. Troy turned, still holding the knife, and went to stab Officer Knatz a second time," said Squicciarini, who said he had to hit Troy to subdue him. The violent struggle ended when members of the team were able to overpower and handcuff Troy. The officers, who both identified Troy in court, then turned him over to Nassau County Police Detectives. During cross-examination, McCormack determined that the officers were not informed of Troy's history of mental illness.

Randall Smith, gun salesman
      Randall Smith has worked for Britt Fire Arms for the past 24 years. He recalled helping a customer purchase a .22 caliber rifle on March 8, 2002. From the witness stand, he identified that customer as Troy. He testified that when he asked Troy what he would be using the gun for, Troy replied, "For small game hunting with my uncle." Smith initially showed him a .22 caliber Luger rifle for $199.
      "He asked if I had anything less expensive and I showed him the Marlin .22 caliber for $169," said Smith.
      Troy gave Smith all the necessary forms of identification and the salesman called the FBI for a background check on the customer, whom he described as a regular guy. The response from the bureau was an OK to proceed with the sale.
      What Smith didn't know was that Troy had been released from his temporary position at Chase Bank, 55 Water St. in Manhattan, that day. What Smith didn't notice was that the MasterCard Troy used to purchase the rifle noted that he was a member since 1961. Troy was born in 1967. A credit card administrator was called to confirm that the card belonged to Troy's father, and that the defendant was an authorized user.
      "It is amazing that someone who looks like [Troy] does could get a gun and do as much damage as he did," said Rob Tosner, Eileen's son during a break in the proceedings. "The most frustrating part is that he could get that gun and destroy our family in the process."

Expert testimony
      Schroeder called several expert witnesses, one of whom testified to Troy's ownership of the red Sundance. An expert on gunshot residue testified that residue was found on Troy's hands after the shootings. A latent fingerprint expert compared the rolled fingerprints taken from Troy at the time of his arrest with fingerprints found on various items recovered from the crime scene. A direct match was made, with three fingerprints found in the owner's manual for the rifle, and the expert further testified that the only identifiable fingerprints found in those pages belonged to Troy. His fingerprint was also found on the sales receipt for the rifle. The largest visible, albeit partial, print that matched Troy's was in the owner's manual section titled, "How to load your gun."

McCormack's pleadings
      With the prosecution's all-but-air-tight case, McCormack implored the court to consider his situation. His client had expressed an interest in cross-examining the witnesses himself, much to McCormack's chagrin.
      "Your Honor, my client is not competent to assist me in his defense and he does not have the ability to assess what is against him," said McCormack. "It is my hope that with proper medication he will change his outlook regarding his defense." McCormack was referring to his client's refusal to make an insanity plea.
      "He hasn't agreed with me from the beginning, and to allow this to continue is a miscarriage of justice," said the frustrated attorney, seeking the court's rendering of a mistrial. His plea was unceremoniously denied.

Character witnesses for the defense
      Troy had maintained his innocence throughout, and his defense consisted of character witnesses testifying on his behalf. It was those witnesses whom Troy was determined to question himself. The court agreed to let him act as his own attorney. Troy appeared almost cocky at the microphone.
      Troy called clergymen who knew him from his days as a student at Chaminade High School and asked each of the men similar questions. Troy asked if they remembered him, to which each replied that they remembered him as a quiet young man and a good student. When Troy pressed them to answer whether or not he was ever in trouble in school, they each replied, "No."
      With his high school yearbook picture displayed on a screen, Troy asked if he was remembered as a peaceable person who helped others. Each of his witnesses answered hesitantly, appearing reluctant to acquiesce to Troy's assessment of himself. Schroeder made the stinging point in his cross-examination that, in fact, none of Troy's character witnesses had seen him since his graduation from Chaminade some 18 years ago.

Search and seizure
      Search warrants were issued and executed for Troy's car, his apartment and his parent's home in Hicksville. Items in Troy's pockets were seized at the time of his arrest. The evidence recovered was nothing short of shocking, and the courtroom reacted accordingly.
      Brosnan testified that a piece of paper found in Troy's wallet bore the names of several OLP members, each involved with the church's music department. On a second scrap of paper were names and addresses, seemingly unrelated. The paper also bore the names of two rifle ranges, with the addresses and phone numbers, both subsequently crossed out.
      But it was in a simple, yellow spiral notebook, recovered from his apartment, that a list titled, "Lynbrook Church Death List" was found. On it were the names of 25 people all reportedly connected to OLP in someway. A black strong box, taken from his bedroom at his parents' home, revealed yet another notebook and another startling list. This one named priests and other personnel from OLP, a church with which Troy contends he had no affiliation. Brosnan testified that he had interviewed all the people on all the lists and none of them knew Troy.
      Faced with the allegations of a double homicide, it is fair to say they all know of Troy now. The prosecution rested its case.

      Closing arguments were all that remained after the seventh day of testimony. Against the advice of McCormack, Troy, who decided not to take the witness stand, presented his own closing statement. He advised Cotter that he had prepared a written statement, and strode over to the podium once again. The frustration on McCormack's face was evident, and the new found enthusiasm on Troy's was hard to miss. To most observers, his line of thinking was also blatantly hard to swallow.
      "I would like to talk about evidence in this case," Troy told the jury. "The witnesses' testimony is hearsay and the evidence is circumstantial. Scary pictures don't prove I committed a crime -- only that a crime was committed."
      Troy then riveted the spectators to their seats as he went on to explain that the murders at OLP were committed by his neighbor. His theory was that the lock on his apartment door was broken, allowing his neighbor to enter the room and steal his wallet. Troy then explained how his neighbor, David, then bought the gun, took his car keys and planted the evidence. Troy said that while he was taking a shower, David re-entered his room and placed the trenchcoat on his bed.
      Troy went on to call police officers Squicciarini and Knatz liars and Smith an incompetent cashier, and accused the police of handing him the owner's manual for the gun, thus ensuring his fingerprints would be on it.
      "There is reasonable doubt because of these three words: lack of motive," said Troy. "You must acquit me. I love the Catholic Church with all my heart, mind, soul and strength."
      That said, the visibly worn, usually stately McCormack addressed the jurors. He explained that his situation was somewhat unusual. Not wanting to counter his client's closing, McCormack instead simply implored the jurors to listen and follow the law.
      "I trust your verdict will be an appropriate and just one," said McCormack, who struggled to choke back emotion. (Later, outside the courtroom, he addressed his emotional state during his closing. "It is very difficult to see a man in [Troy's] condition speak of a defense that is not based on reality," he said. "I have always questioned his mental competency.")
      Schroeder's closing focused on the evidence and the testimony of the witnesses. His statements were sparked by Troy's lack of remorse for the tragic deaths that Schroeder was confident he proved the defendant was responsible for.
      "[Troy] has the gall to tell you his neighbor did it," said Schroeder. "The defendant entered OLP intent on causing as much death as he could."
      Schroeder instructed the jurors not to let sympathy enter into their deliberations and to remember how shrewd Troy was when he entered OLP that tragic morning 15 months ago.
      "He intended to kill anyone in front of that rifle," said the prosecutor. "Tosner was praying with her eyes closed when she was hit. The bullet passed through her closed eyelid. Mercifully, she didn't know what hit her, but her husband and her children and grandchildren know what hit them."
      Members of the Tosner family were in the courtroom every day. Son Rob, 40, was so overcome during Schroeder's statement that he wept openly. Schroeder reminded the jury of the other grown men who testified and, more than a year later, still wept openly.
      "Grown men were crying because it still hurts, and they are still trying to figure out what happened," said Schroeder. "Return with a verdict consistent with the evidence. I don't have to prove motive -- we've established identity."
      Rob Tosner said that in spite of Troy's mental history, he is glad that Troy didn't enter an insanity plea. "He should have to pay for what he did to our families," Tosner said, "and never be able to do something like this to anyone else."