A jury in federal court in Central Islip on Wednesday convicted the brother of the hit-and-run driver who police say killed a nun in Water Mill nearly six months ago.
The jury, after about four and a half hours of deliberation over two days, found Miguel Ixpec-Chitay of Riverhead, whose age was not available but is in his 20s, guilty of lying to investigators during the search for his brother. Sentencing is set for January 8 at 1 p.m.
Mr. Ixpec-Chitay was tried on a single felony count of making a materially false statement to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents regarding phone calls made between him and his brother, Carlos Armando Ixpec-Chitay, 30. The elder brother is the suspected driver of the SUV that plowed into Sister Jacqueline Walsh, 59, of Syosset, a Catholic nun walking alongside Rose Hill Road near her retreat house the night of July 9, killing her instantly.
Essentially, Miguel is accused of lying about having had contact with Carlos immediately after the crash, thereby hindering the manhunt for his brother, which quickly went national, and came up empty-handed.
The younger brother’s federal case, which began being heard on Monday before Judge Denis R. Hurley, offered many details of what law enforcement officers believe transpired in the early days of the still-unresolved search for the elder Mr. Ixpec-Chitay, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala.
And although the crash itself was not part of Miguel’s case, authorities have acknowledged independently over the past week that Carlos likely fled the country. U.S. Marshals outside the courtroom Monday said he may have returned to his homeland. His exact whereabouts appear to be unknown, but extradition is a possibility, police said.
“This case is about a lie. A lie that mattered,” declared prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz, an assistant U.S. attorney, in her opening statement Monday.
In a July 13 interview with federal agents, Miguel said he had neither seen nor spoken to Carlos and had neither called nor received a call from him in at least 25 days, a claim he repeated numerous times even after officers explained to him in his native Spanish that it was a crime to lie to federal officers, and that they had acquired a lot of information in reference to Carlos, Ms. Gatz told the 12-member jury. He also signed a written statement swearing that what he said was true.
The prosecutor pointed to phone records as evidence showing approximately 20 calls made between Miguel’s and Carlos’s cell phones on July 9 and 10 and said that the “time elapsed” in the records indicate that connections were made. In addition, a text message exchange between the brothers’ phones was made the day after the crash, in which a message in Spanish from Carlos’s phone asked for no more questions and an “Ok” response came from Miguel’s phone. The indictment, however, refers only to calls, not texts.
“This is not about a lie. It’s about a misunderstanding,” countered defense attorney Leonard Lato. He tried to poke holes in the prosecution’s argument by claiming the sworn statement was not entirely true because it said nothing about Miguel having not seen or spoken to Carlos. It is misleading, Mr. Lato argued, because it is written in English, not Spanish, meaning Miguel doesn’t know what preceded his signature. He also argued that investigators should have recorded the interview via audio or video, but they elected not to and that although the phone numbers between Carlos and Miguel are linked, there is no proof, he said, that the brothers themselves were the ones who were actually on their phones at the times in question.
Miguel, who pleaded not guilty, wore a blue shirt and tie and a neat haircut in court and listened to a Spanish interpreter throughout, displaying little emotion. He has been held at the Queens Detention Facility, a private jail in Jamaica, Queens, that houses primarily pre-sentenced detainees on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service, since his September arrest.
Sister Walsh’s cousin, Chuck Walsh, sat in the front row with Jim Murphy, the deacon at Sister’s Walsh’s church. Mr. Walsh declined to comment.
The government called several witnesses.
Southampton Town Police Detective Tim Wilson testified that police identified Carlos as the suspect early on and obtained a search warrant to track his phone, a white iPhone that officers found on July 10 ditched in the woods across the street from 543 Blue Point Road, just north of the Long Island Expressway, in Farmingville, about 40 miles west of the crash scene.
Karvelis Giedrius, a friend of Carlos who lives in Riverhead, testified that he had bought Carlos’s phone for him and included him on his family plan, and that Carlos had called him the night of the crash as well as about 6 a.m. the next day. Mr. Giedrius said later outside the courtroom that Carlos had asked to stay at his home after the crash, but because the phone was in Mr. Giedrius’s name, federal agents showed up at that home looking for him.