Suspect in multi-defendant murder trial of U.S. vet Dardar Paye asks for separate trial

Two of four Liberian men who were expected to be tried together next year in the execution-style slaying of a U.S. Army veteran could be tried separately depending on how a judge rules.

On Tuesday, Judge Robert Billmeier ordered one of the four men, Abdutawab Kiazolu, 26, tried separately. That left codefendants, Phobus Sullivan, 30, Mack Edwards, 29, Danuweli Keller, 27 set for trial in January 2016. But Edwards on Tuesday also requested to be tried seperately.

A fifth man, William Brown, 30, who is serving 50 years in state prison for the unrelated murder of convicted drug dealer Tracy Lamont Crews, will also be tried separately.

Brown’s alleged role in the murder is unclear, but he made incriminating statements that could not presented at a joint trial because of evidence rules, officials said.

All rejected 30-year plea offers for the murder of Dardar Paye, a Liberian immigrant who was fatally shot in the basement of a Monmouth Street home Jan. 16, 2011. His body was placed in garbage bags and stuffed in the trunk of his Buick, which Sullivan later drove while allegedly attempting to dispose of the body.

Keller, the suspected gunman in Paye’s murder, Sullivan and Edwards would also have had to plead guilty to counts related to the October 2010 carjacking and kidnapping of Alfonso Slaughter.

According to published reports, Slaughter was taken to the same Monmouth Street basement where he was robbed but escaped.

Slaughter is expected to testify in the Paye’s murder case.

Prosecutors indicted the matters together because the crimes are related and possibly explain motive, said Skylar Weissman, assistant prosecutor and chief of the homicide unit.

But the 22-count indictment a grand jury returned has also complicated the murder case because some of the counts do not pertain to some of the defendants. That is the reason Kiazolu, who was not charged for being involved in the Slaughter kidnapping, is being tried separately.

Piggybacking off Kiazolu, Mark Davis, an attorney for Edwards, asked the judge to try his client separately. Judge Billmeier will decide at a later date whether Edwards should be tried separately. Some of the counts involving the kidnapping of Slaughter may involve Edwards, the judge said.

The judge told Edwards it would be some time before he could try him separately as he has already penned in several murder trials, including this one, which is slated to start Jan. 19.

Prosecutors tried to get a short adjournment of this case as assistant prosecutors Skylar Weissman and Michael Grillo substituted in for assistant prosecutors Michelle Gasparian and Rachel Cook.

Weissman had asked the judge to postpone the case to accommodate a preplanned vacation to Florida to celebrate his parents 65th wedding anniversary in February.

But the judge said postponing the case any longer would be unfair to the defendants who will have been incarcerated more than four years once trial commences. The matter was delayed by the retirement of two judges previously assigned the case.

“I’m hoping to try this case before I retire,” Billmeier said. “I know how hard you [Weissman] work. Certainly, any vacation is well-deserved. If I could [postpone the trial], I would.”

Weissman said he respected the judge’s decision.

“We’ll work it out,” he said.

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