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Judge extends deadline in Wendy’s death penalty

Originally, DA Richard A. Brown had until Nov. 24 to decide whether to seek the death penalty. But State Supreme Court Administrative Judge Steven W. Fisher granted the extension after both the defense and prosecution agreed it would give the district attorney more time to examine whether there were any mitigating factors to preclude capital punishment.

Some relatives of the victims who attended the court session were distressed by the extension.

Colleen Brady, the attorney for Craig Godineaux, 30, of Jamaica, who has been charged in the five murders, told the judge her client is mentally retarded and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

"Under New York state law if this case were to proceed it would not allow the death penalty for Mr. Godineaux," she said.

John Youngblood, the attorney for John Taylor, 36, of Elmhurst, the other defendant in the case, said he was not sure how the extension would benefit his client, but "he was sure it would."

Brady said there were three components that determine whether someone is mentally retarded: significant sub-average intelligence as measured by IQ tests, deficits in everyday life skills and evidence of both before a defendant turns 18 years old.

On July 27, Godineaux and Taylor entered not-guilty pleas to a 50-count indictment that charged each with first- and second-degree murder and attempted murder in the deaths of five Wendy's workers and the injuring of two others. According to state law, the district attorney has 120 days from the time a defendant is arraigned on an indictment charging first-degree murder to decide whether to pursue the death penalty.

Taylor, an employee of the Main Street Wendy's who was fired in October 1999, and Godineaux are accused of herding the seven employees in the restaurant at closing time on May 24 into a basement freezer, binding and gagging them, and then shooting them each execution-style. Five of the workers died. The victims were from Flushing, Ridgewood, Jamaica, Springfield Gardens and Ozone Park.

The district attorney's office said Brown has sought the death penalty in three cases since the state Legislature reinstated capital punishment in 1995. In each of the cases, they said, the defendants received life without the possibility of parole.

Brown has said that only about 10 percent of homicide cases qualify for capital punishment consideration, including the murder of a police officer, a murder committed in tandem with certain other felonies and a multiple homicide.

Fisher said Monday capital murder cases place a great strain on the legal system and it usually takes 40 working days to select a jury, although the process usually proceeds faster in Queens County. In capital murder cases, an alternate jury member is selected for each of the 12 jurors, instead of the usual two alternates per jury.

"In this case, legal consideration might very well require either that there be separate trials for each of the defendants or that there be a single trial with two juries," Fisher said. "We might have a situation where 48 jurors have to be selected."

The attorneys for both Godineaux and Taylor said they had no objection to the court assigning the case to a judge trained in handling capital punishment cases rather than picking a judge by lottery.

As they filed out of the courtoom, some family members of the victims expressed dissatisfaction among themselves that an extension had been granted. One woman burst out in tears and shouted, "I hate this country."

Benjamin Nazario, the brother of Ramon Nazario, one of the workers who died, said he thought the death penalty should still be applied regardless of Godineaux's mental state.

"They're going to do their best to try to get out of it," Nazario said. "Now they're saying this out of nowhere because they know it is getting too close. Now they're feeling it, and I want them to feel it because I still believe they should get the death penalty."

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