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Wendy’s suspects plead not guilty

Standing before Judge Robert Hanophy in a jam-packed Queens County courtroom last Thursday morning, the two men accused of methodically murdering five Wendy's workers and wounding two others at the Flushing restaurant in May pleaded not guilty to a sweeping 50-count indictment.

Craig Godineaux, 30, of Jamaica, and John Taylor, 36, of Elmhurst, entered their not guilty pleas to first- and second-degree murder and attempted murder as the victims' family members looked on, some sobbing and letting out ghastly sighs as the defendants' confessions were read aloud.

Emotions flared, in particular, when a statement made by Godineaux was read in court, in which he described putting a coat on Anita Smith, 22, of South Jamaica, before she was led into a freezer and shot to death.

Godineaux and Taylor are accused of herding the seven Wendy's employees into a basement freezer, binding and gagging them and then shooting them execution-style. Five of the employees died.

Now that the defendants have been charged with first-degree murder, Richard Brown, the Queens district attorney, has 120 days to decide whether to seek the death penalty, a provision afforded by state law in capital murder cases. The next court date is set for Nov. 24.

A continual flow of family members filed into the courthouse last Thursday morning on Queens Boulevard. By the time the family of Ramon Nazario, 44, of Flushing, who was among the five workers killed, arrived on time with an entourage of 10, the courtroom had already been filled to capacity.

Court officers stationed outside the courtroom signaled to others posted by the third-floor elevator bank when an occupied seat became vacant. In the case of the Nazarios, family members had to enter the courtroom in piecemeal fashion - a few of Nazario's relatives would leave the hearing after a short time to make room for others waiting forlornly in the lobby.

Information about the proceedings was relayed by proxy to those reporters unable to find seats in the courtroom. One woman, who left the hourlong hearing a little before noon, filled in details of the goings-on inside the courtroom.

As the arraignment forged ahead, family members stuck in the third-floor lobby anxiously milled about, mingling with one another, consoling one another, and discussing issues like whether the defendants should receive the death penalty if convicted.

One woman, Dimetreha Bebraggi, the cousin of JaQuione Johnson, 18, who was shot in the head and released last week from Jamaica Hospital, spoke with reporters about her cousin and his progress.

Johnson is able to "do arithmetic and read" but has lost much of his sense of taste and has to eat "lots of food" before being able to discern what it is, she said.

Surprisingly, Johnson wanted to attend last Thursday's hearing, though his family dissuaded him from doing so, she said.

Perhaps the most emotive portion of the hearing came when the lead prosecutor, Gregory L. Lasak, read excerpts of statements made by Godineaux and Taylor to police shortly after they were arrested.

In statement No. 9 , according to Mary De Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, Godineaux told police: "I shot five of them. I didn't shoot the girl [Anita Smith]. That fat [or rat] bastard shot Anita. I liked that girl. I put a coat on her before she went into the freezer."

Emotions surged in the courtroom as family members could be heard letting out plaintive cries when Lasak read that statement. In another statement made by Godineaux while he was being transported by police from Brentwood, L.I. to Queens, he said "nobody was going to be left" when asked by detectives why he and Taylor did not wear masks during the robbery and shootings.

Taylor said in his confession, which was also read in part, that Godineaux was the one who shot all seven employees, and that he had only shot one person, De Bourbon said. Taylor said he only meant to commit the robbery.

Outside of the courtroom, the question of whether the death penalty should be sought hung heavy in the conversations of family members. One man from the Nazario family walked over to a man from Johnson's to gauge his feelings on the issue.

After learning that Johnson's cousin was in favor of capital punishment, the Nazario family member said "if Pataki signed it into law, it should be applied." Bebraggi said that lethal injection would not be harsh enough. She prefers electrocution.

Some members of the Nazario and Johnson families were also worried that Godineaux and Taylor, if found guilty, would turn the Wendy's massacre into a cash cow of sorts, in which the killings would be sensationalized in books or in movies.

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