Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Club Owner Cleared in Killings

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Club Owner Cleared in Killings

Article excerpt

Jurors in Hackensack on Thursday acquitted a Queens nightclub owner of a double street killing in Teaneck, rejecting prosecutors' arguments that a cocaine scheme gone awry, an electronic trail to the crime scene and his conflicting statements to police proved his guilt.

The verdict finding Nicholas Kiriakakis not guilty of murder came a day after a defense attorney had countered prosecutors with an impassioned summation: that the hit on two Queens men in an SUV on a quiet residential street wasn't the handiwork of a "small-timer" like his client, but that of an unknown professional killer.

In a meticulously circumstantial case, Bergen County prosecutors had constructed a portrait of a debt-haunted Kiriakakis in a failed drug scheme and needing to rid himself of victims Michael Mirasola and Jonathan Beneduce, who had invested in his scheme.

They found cellphone records squarely placing him on Oakdene Avenue on the evening of Feb. 17, 2010. They obtained his E-ZPass records and traced his journey from Queens to Teaneck just before the killings. They even found his palm print on the back door of the 2007 Ford Explorer in which the bullet-ridden bodies of Mirasola and Beneduce were found the next morning.

And when police questioned him about his whereabouts that night, he lied, they said.

But defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo portrayed Kiriakakis, Beneduce and Mirasola as "way in over their heads," involved in what was probably a very lucrative deal with much more serious criminals. And he presented evidence that he argued proved Beneduce felt threatened by some other party.

The jury in state Superior Court in Hackensack took less than a day of deliberations to find Kiriakakis not guilty on two murder charges. It convicted him instead of the much lesser charges of conspiracy and hindering apprehension.

Judge Liliana DeAvila Silebi scheduled sentencing for Jan. 25.

With the burden of a possible life sentence lifted from his shoulders, a visibly relieved Kiriakakis hugged his parents and sister after the verdict was announced, wiping tears from his eyes. They all declined to comment afterward.

Kiriakakis now faces a maximum of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced next month.

"When the dust settles, I think it's both critical and appropriate that the jury found him not guilty of the murders," Agnifilo said later. …

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