SPARROWBUSH, N.Y. » David Carlson’s attempt to help corral a fugitive rape suspect has led to him fighting a murder charge. But his supporters say he’s more a victim than vigilante.
Carlson is accused of firing his shotgun twice at Norris Acosta-Sanchez as they walked along the wooded road where Carlson lives with his wife and three sons near the Pennsylvania border. Carlson claims he was escorting Acosta-Sanchez at gunpoint so a neighbor could call police.
A jury could consider the charges against Carlson next year, though many in this rural corner have already made up their minds.
"He’s not anybody who would kill anybody, ever. It had to be an extremely bad moment. It had to be," said neighbor Judy Metzroth, who put up her house for the 42-year-old union carpenter’s $100,000 bail bond after he was indicted last month.
Acosta-Sanchez, 35, was charged in neighboring Rockland County this summer with statutory rape of a teenage girl and had been staying at the summer cabin by the Carlsons’ home, apparently unbeknownst to the cabin’s owner. Family and friends say Acosta-Sanchez had earlier visited the cabin 65 miles northwest of New York City with other enthusiasts of the Russian spiritualist George Gurdjieff. They said he was born in Spain, moved to the United States when he was young and was working toward his U.S. citizenship. They described him as a smart, charismatic and capable man who attended college in Manhattan and lived in Paris, Madrid and Tel Aviv. But they say he also say he had trouble focusing on a path as an adult.
"He was a great guy. I loved my brother, but he was a little lost," said Dianela Acosta.
Carlson would not talk about his case with The Associated Press on the advice of his lawyers, but he had earlier told the Times Herald-Record of Middletown that Acosta-Sanchez had befriended his family in August. He initially told them his name was Daniel but later confessed he was a wanted man.
Carlson told police, who enlisted him in a plan to catch Acosta-Sanchez. Carlson would give Acosta-Sanchez a lift in his car, which would be pulled over by police. Officers failed to pull over Carlson’s car on a first attempt. That gambit worked the next day, Oct. 9, but Acosta-Sanchez fled after police let him go back to the cabin to get his wallet, according to Carlson’s lawyer, Benjamin Ostrer. Police in the Town of Deerpark declined to comment.
Acosta-Sanchez proved difficult to catch the next day, reportedly swimming across the nearby Rio Reservoir to escape police.
Locals were on edge.
A day later, Acosta-Sanchez was dead.
Details of what happened that Friday morning remain undisclosed because of the criminal case or are in dispute.
Ostrer said an agitated Acosta-Sanchez showed up at Carlson’s home. Carlson came out with his shotgun, and the two men began walking to a neighbor’s house. One neighbor’s security video shows the two figures walking briskly down the road, single file.
Carlson fired his first two shots into the ground to warn neighbors, Ostrer said. Prosecutors say Carlson shot Acosta-Sanchez in the arm and then the head.
Supporters say Carlson acted in self-defense, arguing if he had intended to kill Acosta-Sanchez, he wouldn’t have fired warning shots or walked him down the road in the remote area with no cell service. Grand jury witness and neighbor Carmine Ferrara said, "What I saw happening wasn’t a murder" but would not comment further because of the criminal case.
"It’s unfortunate that some have mischaracterized my client’s conduct as vigilantism," Ostrer said. "His repeated efforts to assist the police are undisputable evidence to the contrary."
Daniela Acosta said her brother was scared and confused. She questions the claim Carlson acted in self-defense.
"He pulled the trigger, twice. I don’t know what this man was thinking," she said.
The grand jury indictment against Carlson includes a top charge of second-degree murder, but it also includes options for a jury to consider lesser charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
There are many who believe Carlson did nothing criminal. The "Free David Carlson" Facebook page has more than 1,000 likes, a website raising funds for his defense has raised $4,500 and the case has garnered attention on websites advocating gun rights and conservative politics. One typical Web headline: Hero Father Charged With Murder for Shooting Rape Suspect.
Carlson said people will sometimes recognize him when he’s out at the store, and he’s never heard a negative response.
"I’m holding up pretty well," he said. "I have to for my kids."