Both 22-year-old East Moriches men accused of forcing their way into an Eastport home and fatally shooting a father of four in the face with a shotgun during an early morning burglary in December pleaded not guilty to murder and assault charges last Thursday, January 30, in Suffolk County Criminal Court.
Paul Batterson Jr., who was arrested last month by Suffolk County Police at the home he shared with his parents, pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and first-degree assault, both felonies, while his friend and co-defendant, Matthew Rooney, pleaded not guilty to one count of each charge during separate arraignments held on the same day.
If convicted of fatally shooting 45-year-old Francisco Pirir Canel, both Mr. Batterson and Mr. Rooney could face up to 25 years to life in prison, according to authorities.
Mr. Rooney surrendered last Thursday, January 30, at the Arthur M. Cromarty Court Complex in Riverside, and was arraigned a few hours later, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. Suffolk County Homicide detectives had been looking for Mr. Batterson’s alleged accomplice since the morning of the fatal shooting.
Judge Richard Ambro ordered both men remanded to Suffolk County Jail in Riverside without bail following last week’s arraignments, which took place only hours apart.
Mr. Batterson is due back in court on Friday, February 28, and Mr. Rooney is scheduled to return on Thursday, March 6.
Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe, the lead prosecutor, said during last Thursday’s separate arraignments that Mr. Batterson and Mr. Rooney, who were both armed and masked at the time, shot the hinges off the door and also fired shots through the windows of the East Moriches Boulevard home at around 3:30 a.m. on December 8. The men then forced their way inside the home and demanded money from Mr. Pirir Canel, who was in the living room at the time, she said.
When Mr. Pirir Canel said he had no money and threatened to call police, Mr. Batterson shot him in the face, “killing him almost instantly,” Ms. Newcombe told the courtroom.
Mr. Pirir Canel’s uncle, Cipriano Pirir Patzan, 56, was wounded in the hand from a shotgun blast, according to Suffolk County Police. Authorities have not disclosed how many rounds were fired by the two men during the incident.
Ms. Newcombe noted that both Mr. Batterson and Mr. Rooney made admissions to others about their involvement in the shooting. She said they were friends but declined to comment further on their relationship.
Suffolk County Police said they recovered the murder weapon, a shotgun, from Mr. Batterson’s home, as well as other incriminating “ballistic evidence,” though homicide detectives have declined to explain what led them to Mr. Batterson. Authorities have also declined to state whether the men took anything from the Eastport rental home, where at least seven people were living at the time.
Mr. Pirir Canel, who was employed as a landscaper before his death, left behind a wife and four children in his native Guatemala.
Sister Margaret Smyth, the director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, said the community and Mr. Pirir’s family are relieved that the men involved in the shooting had been caught and charged.
During last week’s arraignment, Edward Burke Jr., the Sag Harbor attorney retained by Mr. Batterson, said his client, who worked as a carpenter and window washer prior to his arrest, “denied any involvement whatsoever in this incident.”
Mr. Batterson appeared in court dressed in a suit and tie. More than a dozen of his family members and friends filled the courtroom last Thursday, some in tears. All declined to comment after the arraignment.
“Obviously, the support that he has speaks volumes,” Mr. Burke said of his client.
Mr. Rooney’s attorney, Pietrina Reda of Merrick, said her client also denied all involvement in the shooting. Mr. Rooney’s parents and brother attended his arraignment last Thursday afternoon, and also declined to comment. Mr. Rooney’s occupation prior to his arrest was not disclosed during last week’s arraignment.
Ms. Reda said her client also disputed some of the accusations put forward by authorities.
Neither Ms. Reda nor Mr. Burke returned multiple calls this week seeking additional comment.