A 22-year-old East Moriches man is facing second-degree murder charges for the December slaying of a father of four in a home invasion killing that shook the Eastport community.
Paul Batterson Jr., who Suffolk County Police said lives with his parents in their East Moriches home, was remanded to the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside without bail following his arraignment Sunday morning in the 1st District Court in Central Islip before Judge Paul M. Hensley.
If convicted of the shooting that claimed the life of 45-year-old Francisco Pirir, a landscaper from Guatemala, Mr. Batterson could face up to 25 years in prison. He did not enter a plea during Sunday’s proceedings and is due back in court in Central Islip on Friday.
His attorney, Eric Besso, who has offices in Sayville, declined to comment after Sunday’s court proceedings, and did not immediately return calls on Tuesday seeking comment.
Suffolk County Police said Mr. Batterson and a still unidentified accomplice, both wearing masks, blasted through the front door of a house on East Moriches Boulevard in Eastport at around 3:25 a.m. on December 8.
The burglars encountered Mr. Pirir in the living room of the rental home that he shared with six other people, including his uncle. When Mr. Pirir refused to hand over money and threatened to call the police, Mr. Batterson killed him with a shotgun blast to the head, according to the felony complaint.
Police recovered a shotgun and “ballistic evidence” in Mr. Batterson’s home that is “consistent with the ballistic evidence recovered at the incident location,” according to the same felony complaint. The report, however, does not explain how many shots were fired during the break-in, or if Mr. Batterson was the only one to discharge a weapon during the confrontation.
Authorities also have not explained why Mr. Batterson and his accomplice targeted the home, and they have not clarified if any money was taken during break-in.
Mr. Pirir’s uncle suffered a hand injury from a shotgun blast, but it is unknown if he was injured when the suspects blasted open the front door or when his nephew was shot.
When reached Monday, Suffolk County Police Lieutenant Jack Fitzpatrick, the commander of the department’s Homicide Squad, said he could not comment on the arrest or how detectives were led to Mr. Batterson. He also declined to comment on whether detectives were close to making a second arrest, noting that the investigation is “ongoing.”
Officials said a grand jury likely would be convened to consider the evidence against Mr. Batterson.
No one answered the door at the Battersons’ two-story home on Woodfern Lane in East Moriches on Monday morning, which is about a mile from where the fatal shooting occurred.
Ruth Wagner, who lives across the street from the Batterson home, said she was surprised to hear the news of the arrest. “He grew up here and he was a great kid,” she said of the suspect, whose occupation is unknown.
Other neighbors on the same block said they did not know the family, or declined to comment on the arrest. “I can just tell you it’s a tragedy,” said one neighbor, who declined to give her name. “It’s a really, really sad tragedy. That’s all.”
Sister Margaret Smyth, the director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, said Tuesday that Mr. Pirir’s brother, Marcos Pirir, who also lived in the Eastport home, said he did not know or recognize Mr. Batterson when he saw him in court on Sunday.
“They are very sad, but they were very, very happy that they found at least one person to start,” Sister Smyth said of Mr. Pirir’s family. “You can tell the family is just so depressed because it was such a trauma … It really was such a trauma that I haven’t seen Marcos smile yet.”
She added that donations for the family poured in from across Long Island and covered the more than $6,000 needed to hold services and transport Francisco Pirir’s body to his native Guatemala, with some left over for his family. Larry and Toni Citarelli, owners of Citarelli’s Gourmet Deli on Montauk Highway in Eastport, helped raise money by placing a plastic jug inside their store.
“At least we know that, for a while, his wife and children will at least have something,” Sister Smyth said.