A judge tells a Brooklyn man she sentenced to 23 years to life on Wednesday for a jewelry theft at the flower park that the victims he held at gunpoint ‘will be forever changed’ by his crime.
A Nassau County Court jury convicted Judge Brunson, 43, of larceny in November – four years after the hold-up at the Atelier Jewelers on Woodbine Court.
Jurors found Brunson was one of two masked gunmen who broke into the business on a Saturday afternoon, with the help of a woman posing as a customer, before escaping with over $80,000 worth of valuables.
“I have no doubt that the lives of the victims will be forever changed by your actions,” said Acting State Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty in announcing Brunson’s punishment.
Store owner Antonio Hurtado also addressed the defendant in a statement that prosecutor Michelle Lewisohn read out in court.
“You committed the crime and now it’s time for you to pay the price and go to jail for a long time,” he said in part. “…Your criminal ways were evident on the day of the robbery, which left an indelible experience hard to forget.”
The heist took place at 2 p.m. on November 11, 2017, when Hurtado and two employees were inside the store located a short walk from the main street of the village and its Long Island Rail Road platform.
Former Brooklyn hairstylist Keisha Payton testified during the trial as a government cooperating witness that she visited the store the day before the crime, dropping off a bracelet to be repaired as a cover while being there to help Brunson with develop the business. She said Brunson and their other accomplice walked in behind her the next day with guns after she returned to retrieve the bracelet and was rung several times inside the store’s locked door.
Brunson and the other thief ordered employees to the ground at gunpoint before taking jewelry and wristwatches, prosecutors say. But the village police arrived quickly after Hurtado was able to set off a panic alarm and they arrested Payton at the scene.
Authorities arrested Brunson in February 2018, the month after catching the other shooter, Darkel Davis, 35, of Queens. Before Brunson’s trial, Davis pleaded guilty to robbery and a judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
Payton pleaded guilty to a felony and a misdemeanor, but court proceedings showed the felony would be dropped and she would only serve probation if prosecutors decided she testified honestly against Brunson.
“He terrorized those employees,” Lewisohn, the prosecutor, said of Brunson while asking the judge on Wednesday to give him the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.
During the trial, Lewisohn testified that Davis, while escaping, dropped a bag with stolen valuables inside, along with his gloves and mask, and threw his gun into the nearby lanes of the LIRR. She said the items were recovered and he left DNA evidence behind.
Evidence against Brunson included text messages between him and Davis, text messages Brunson sent to multiple people regarding a news report detailing Payton’s arrest, as well as phone records, surveillance video and Payton’s testimony, also said. Lewisohn to the jurors.
Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly said in a statement Wednesday that jurors convicted Brunson “due to the overwhelming evidence in this case, as well as the hard work of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners.”
Defense attorney Christopher Devane portrayed Payton during the trial as a liar who testified against Brunson to avoid jail time, getting her to admit that she hid information from police after her arrest and lied to the grand jury.
The jury deliberated for four days, twice declaring deadlock, before convicting Brunson.
Brunson, who maintains his innocence and says police placed photos of stolen jewelry on his phone, told the judge on Wednesday that his rights had been violated “numerous times throughout this case.”
Devane said after court he would file a notice of appeal for Brunson.
“He feels innocent and feels he was wrongly convicted and will have his day in court again,” he added.