Updates From Joel Kaplan Regarding the trial of Ramhal Watkins

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Updated: 9/18 [9:00 PM]: Today the case was given over to the jury to deliberate and hopefully return a verdict on the eight charges against Watkins.

The defense and the prosecution (in that order) delivered their summations to the jury.

The defense tried to paint the actions of Watkins as a mistake, with tragic consequences.

He was trying to avoid the erratic driving of Ms. Steward.

The prosecutor, Katie Zizza, made the point that it was not a mistake, it was a conscious decision by Watkins, to accelerate and try to pass Steward. That’s not a mistake; that was a crime.

It was reckless; he could’ve braked and hung back; instead he made the conscious decision to try to pass her on her left, the side she was veering to;

What was very compelling was the prosecution showing red light camera footage of cars routinely driving thru the intersection at normal speeds.

Then, the prosecutor showed the footage of Rahmel speeding thru the intersection the contrast was amazing; you could see how fast he was going. And then he lost control, hitting the median, sand striking Yisroel and Elisheva’s car and then going airborne and hitting another car.

The Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas came to speak with us after court today. We thanked her profusely for all that her office has done to prosecute this case.

Now, the jury will deliberate outside of the courtroom, so obviously there is no call/need for anyone to be there. No one knows how long the jury will deliberate, or of course their verdict.

We thank the community once again from the bottom of our hearts.

As soon as the jury returns with a verdict, we will let the community know.

A good Shabbos, and a K’siva V’chasima Tova to all.

On another personal note, our son Meir and his wife Shila (Weinberger) had a baby girl two evenings ago. This morning, the baby was named; Elisheva Basya Nechama…….

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Updated: 9/18 [9:00 PM]:

Today marked the conclusion of testimony in this case.

The prosecution rested their case; after the routine request by the defense to the Judge for the charges to be dismissed, which the Judge denied, the defense mounted their case:

Their case consisted of the defendant himself taking the stand.

Rahmal Watkins didn’t recall anything after he admitted passing the other speeding car, which was driven by Zakiah Steward. Ms. Steward is the driver, high on marijuana and intoxicated, who was friends with Mr. Watkins passenger) Watkins claimed he wanted to pass Ms. Steward’s car because it was veering left and right in the lane and he wanted to stay clear of her.

He was behind that speeding car; instead of braking and keeping his distance from Ms. Steward, Mr. Watkins accelerated and tried to pass her on her left.

He lost control of the car, striking the median, and hitting two cars, in the opposite bound lane of traffic. The first car he hit was that of Elisheva and Yisroel, which caused their death. His car went airborne, his car’s engine flew out, and resulted in injuries to two others.

In cross examination, he admitted never looking at his speedometer, not sure how fast he was going, but probably over 60(the red-light video and reconstruction showed him going over 100 miles an hour thru the Burnside avenue and 878 intersection.)
He was not familiar with this particular roadway, nor that there was a median dividing north and south bound traffic, not adjusting his driving habits to an unfamiliar road, at night, on a damp roadway, with mist and fog in the air. Of course, how the jury views his testimony is known only to them.

Tomorrow at 9:30 AM, in the last remaining session, the attorneys will make their summations.

After they conclude, the judge will charge the jury with the law regarding the charges against Mr. Watkins.

Because many family members will be attending this concluding session, and the courtroom rules during summation don’t allow access in or out of the courtroom, few seats will be available.

The last thing we would want are people taking the trouble to make the trip to the Courthouse and not being able to enter the courtroom.

Know that a number of court officers, attorneys, and other court personnel have told us that they have never ever seen such a display of community support like you – our friends and neighbors- have demonstrated this past week plus.

The Levin and Kaplan families thank you all from the bottom of our hears, for showing what Mi K’amcha Yisroel means, and for the Chizuk you have all given us during this very trying time.

May Hakodosh Boruch Hu grant you only health, bracha, and nachas as, we approach the yomim Noraaim.

A ksiva V’chasima Tova to all.

The Kaplan and Levin families

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Updated: 9/18 [9:00 AM]:

As the trial winds down, first, a tremendous hakoras hatov to all those whom we know and whom -we don’t know -who took the time to travel to and from the courthouse and sit with us. At times, the trial was tedious, sometimes, it was just being in the courtroom or outside the courtroom, and waiting and more waiting for the proceedings to begin.

One of the times that brought me to tears was not the trial itself. It was looking around and seeing Klal Yisroel here with us.

Very important: Wednesday there will be an AM session only; the defendant Rahmal Watkins is slated to testify on his own behalf. There is no need to attend the PM session which will be devoted to a charge conference with the Judge and the lawyer, and no testimony. And without the jury present.

Today’s testimony was the continuation ( from Friday ) of the testimony of Nassau County Investigator Dave McCarthy, who discussed the download of the event data recorders from the Infiniti (James Hamilton’s car; his car was hit by Rahmal and Mr. Hamilton suffered some injuries)and the Hyundai Genesis, driven by Zakiah Steward( the other driver racing under the influence of marijuana and alcohol, who has plead guilty.)
Investigator McCarty testified also about the demonstration done in May (driving through the intersection at known speeds – 40, 60, and 80).
Detective Shea testified about the timeline surveillance videos of Watkins and Steward traveling from Far Rockaway to the crash location, as well as showing the jury side by side speed comparisons of the red-light camera videos.
Tom Zavesky, the speed expert delivered testimony, on how he calculated the speed of the Defendant’s vehicle to be about 100 mph and how he confirmed the accuracy of his calculations.
The final testimony presented by the prosecution were the medical examiners discussing the causes of death and identifications of Yisroel and Elisheva.

 Thank you again from the bottom of our heart!!!

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Updated: 9/15 [9:00 AM]:

Because one of the prosecutions’ last, but key witnesses, an expert witness on “speed” (as it relates to cars) is not available on Monday., the trial is on recess Monday.

If you can pass along the information that there is no session on Monday, it would be very much appreciated.

Trial resumes on Tuesday 9:30 AM. 

Friday there was only one session (AM).

Detective Maloney gave cell site evidence testimony, showing the three cars driven by Watkins and two others, going from a party in the Rockaways, to Burnside and 878.  And calls between them.

Investigator Dave McCarthy testified about data from the event data recorder (known as a “black box”) from the Infiniti (a car struck by Rahmal Watkins) and from the Hyundai Genesis’s black box. The Hyundai was driven by Zakiah Steward, the second speeding driver, who was driving at speeds of close to 80 miles per hour, while high and drunk. She has plead guilty.

Investigator McCarthy started to testify about his role in the demonstration done in May (which was driving through the intersection at known speeds. The intent is to show the red-light camera footage next to the demonstration at known speeds. It shows Watkins car going faster (probably closer to 100 miles an hour) than Steward’s car. (close to 80 miles per hour)

Officer Germani testified that he utilized a LIDAR laser (otherwise known as a radar gun) to determine the speed of the investigator’s car in the May demonstration.

Maureen McCormick, Chief of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau, testified about the efforts to obtain crash data from the BMW. BMW is refusing to share software that will “interpret’ the data on the BMW’s black box. That data can only be interpreted by BMW proprietary software.

 Thank you again from the bottom of our heart!!!

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Updated: 9/13 [9:00 AM]:

Today, Friday, there is one court session – AM only, beginning at 10 AM.

Yesterday, the prosecution presented various detectives, “black box” experts, and the medical examiner’s office as witnesses.

(Yes, cars also have black boxes, recording speed, direction etc., before and at the time collisions happen….

No, I didn’t know that either)

The purpose of the testimony was to show:

· red light camera videos,

· cell site evidence corroborating the route of the defendant and his friends’ cars traveling together,

· measurements of the crash scene cars and debris,

· “black box” and its information recorded,

· How the defendant’s DNA was retrieved.

Just as a reminder : You can just come whenever it is convenient for you and/or sign up on the Google calendar: Sign up here.

Thank you again from the bottom of our heart!!!

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Updated: 9/11 [9:00 PM]:

First , anyone planning to come tomorrow(Thursday , September 12) in the AM, tomorrow the court session begins at 10:30 AM, not 9:30 AM.

And morning session usually concludes at about 12:30 PM.

Today, the prosecution put on the stand various Nassau County Police officers, crime scene investigators, homicide detectives and medics; they narrated their involvement on the scene right after the crash, later that morning, and in subsequent days in documenting/ memorializing the crime scene. Videos, red light camera footage from Burnside and 878 intersection ( we knew there would be a positive use for those videos somehow) and photographs all were introduced into evidence.

The trial is moving along ahead of schedule….. but still probably about five days or so remaining.

Thank you all for “signing up” . we had great attendance today, and we are overwhelmed by friends and neighbors coming , many of whom we didn’t know personally before today.

Mi K’amcha Yisroel!!!

Just as a reminder : You can just come whenever it is convenient for you and/or sign up on the Google calendar: Sign up here.

Thank you again from the bottom of our heart!!!

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Updated: 9/11 [10:00 AM]:

Thank you all so much for expressing your support and intent to help provide “the good showing” of family and friends at trial that the District Attorney’s office has very much recommended.

Day 1 went “well”; while the opening of the prosecution was jolting as the prosecutor began by speaking about Elisheva and Yisroel… his presentation was very powerful, as he described to the jury what happened and what the prosecution will prove- Watkins driving recklessly at 100 miles an hour, at night, wet roadway , and foggy , and losing control of the car—-

Other witnesses included:

Yaakov Levin, Yisroel’s brother describing the visit of Elisheva and Yisroel to his home in Monsey, the night before they were killed,
the medic on the accident scene, the police officer responding to the accident,
the detective involved in the reconstruction of the accident, and a most important witness, another driver driving next to/ behind Elisheva and Yisroel whose car was damaged and who himself was injured by Watkins- there were videos and still photographs of the scene, ….

You can just come whenever it is convenient for you and/or sign up on the Google calendar:

The trial is being held in the Mineola Court House, 262 Old Country Road, Mineola, New York., Justice Francis Ricigliano, presiding.

The Courtroom is the first courtroom on the left, on the first floor of the Courthouse.

Here is a link to a Google calendar, so that if you can attend for any portion of the trial, you can “register” so we will know that we have a “good showing” on any given day.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lJ192DfWJ-QQwdl8TgQGLkLKdXcPlBHs7_9zONbJKjg/edit#gid=0

Morning sessions generally start at 9:30 AM and run until about 12:30 PM. Afternoon sessions start at about 2:00 and go until about 4:30 PM.
Any portion of the day is fine; you can enter and leave the courtroom at any time. The doors are not locked, other than when court is on lunch recess.
We know everyone is very busy and appreciate any time you can spare. It is a great chizuk to us!

Free parking is available in the parking lot across from the courthouse: just not in the spots marked reserved or for grand jurors.

Couple of important points:
When you are in the courtroom, the court rules are clear: no cell phones, no reading, etc. If you are in the courtroom, your attention needs to be directed to the testimony being offered. And Maybe most importantly, the proceedings are serious indeed, and we must always be conscious that our conduct is being viewed by the jury; so, please, while in the courtroom, no smiling, no “hi, how are yous? “, no conversations (anyway not permitted) no light banter.
Thank you.

On behalf of the Kaplan and Levin families, we thank you for your incredible support and chizuk you have all shown us from the moment we learnt of this terrible tragedy.

We so daven for the Geula Shlaima!!

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Updated: 9/10 [9:00 PM]:

A letter 5TC received written by a local resident who sat in trial all day Tuesday to show support:

I just want to share with everyone that sitting in the courtroom today was deeply profound and wrenching. The dignity, composure & graciousness of the Kaplans and Levins is both inspiring and heartbreaking. Sitting in this large courtroom for hours as the complex details of the accident are reviewed, graphic videos are screened, hearing the testimony of the witnesses, wondering what the members of the jury are thinking it is absolutely surreal when you realize that four bereaved, anguished and heartbroken parents are sitting through this horror daily.

That is why it is incumbent on anyone who can make their way to Mineola to come even for a short time to give support and encouragement to these extraordinary familes. Both the Kaplans and Levins went over to each person today to thank them for coming… where do they find the strength??

If you want a real life example of what we will encounter on Rosh Hashana  come to Judge Ricigliano’s courtroom. Your presence makes a difference and lets the families know that their tragedy is not old news.

L.R.

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Updated: 9/10 [9:00 PM]:

The trial of Rahmal Watkins is starting on Tuesday, September 10 th .

Watkins was the speeding driver whose reckless behavior caused the crash on April 4, 2018 that killed our children, Elisheva Basya Kaplan a’h and Yisroel Levin, a’h.

The DA’s office has advised us that it is very important that there be a good showing of family and friends of Elisheva and Yisroel in the courtroom, throughout the trial. The trial is being held in the Mineola Court House, 262 Old Country Road, Mineola, New York., Justice Francis Ricigliano, presiding. The courtroom is located on the first Floor, first courtroom on the left side.

Here is a link to a Google calendar, so that if you can attend for any portion of the trial, you can “register” so we will know that we have a “good showing” on any given day.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lJ192DfWJ-QQwdl8TgQGLkLKdXcPlBHs7_9zONbJKjg/edit#gid=0

Morning sessions generally start at 9:30 AM and run until about 12:30 PM. Afternoon sessions start at about 2:00 and go until about 4:30 PM. Any portion of the day is fine; we know everyone is very busy and appreciate any time you can spare. It is a great chizuk to us!

Free parking is available in the parking lot across from the courthouse: just not in the spots marked reserved or for grand jurors.

On behalf of the Kaplan and Levin families, we thank you for your incredible support and chizuk you have all shown us from the moment we learnt of this terrible tragedy.

We so daven for the Geula Shlaima!!

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September 4th:

Yesterday, September 3rd, the jury selection in the trial of Ramhal Watkins began.
Watkins was the speeding driver whose reckless behavior caused the crash on April 4, 2018 that killed our children, Elisheva Basya Kaplan a’h and Yisroel Levin, a’h.

The Nassau County District Attorney’s office projects that the jury selection will take up the rest of the week, and the actual trial will begin (probably) Monday, September 9th. There is no need (and perhaps no room in the courtroom) for any of us to come to jury selection.

The trial is being held in the Mineola Court House, 262 Old Country Road, Mineola, New York., Justice Francis Ricigliano, presiding. The two Assistant District Attorneys who are prosecuting the case on behalf of the People of the State of New York, are Katie Zizza and Christopher Casa. Free parking is available in the parking lot across from the courthouse: just not in the spots marked reserved or for grand jurors.

The DA’s office expects it to take approximately two weeks for them to present their case before they “rest “(finish presenting their case). Then the defense has the option of putting forth their case. Afterwards comes closing arguments by the DAs, then closing arguments by the Defense, and then a final rebuttal by the DAs.

As advised by the DA’s office, it is critical that there be a good showing of family and friends of Elisheva and Yisroel in the courtroom. The first and last days of the trial, when opening statements and summations are made, are the most critical days, but throughout the trial, it is important for there to be family and friends of Elisheva and Yisroel in attendance.

As it becomes clearer when the actual trial will start, we will send out a Google calendar, so that If you can attend for any portion of the trial, even a few hours, you can “register” so we will know how many people plan to attend Court on any given day /morning/afternoon of the trial, or you can simply e mail me at chazan@aol.com .

We know how busy everyone is, particularly playing “catch up” from the summer, and with the Yomim Naarim coming, so no pressure.

The DA’s office has advised us that to the extent they know beforehand, they will alert us to the potential of graphic testimony relating to the crash, being offered at the trial, so, if we so choose, we can absent ourselves from the courtroom during that time.
The DA’s office also expects a substantial media interest in the case; we have not decided yet, with the DA’s counsel, whether or not to make an opening statement to the press, if requested.

Mr. Watkins, because of his lengthy “rap “sheet, dating from when he was 15 years old, and his various convictions, faces the possibility of up to life in prison, if he is convicted of assault in this case
The other defendant, Zakkiyah Steward has plead guilty to seventeen counts and is awaiting sentencing. Both are in jail and have been there for various other crimes.

On behalf of the Kaplan and Levin families, we thank you for your support and your Tefilos during this most difficult time for the Kaplan and Levin families.

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