After Growing Up On Rikers Island Teen Heads to Trial

Prakash Churaman (right) with his attorneys Ron Kuby (middle) and Rhiya Trivedi in Queens Supreme Court before trial Wednesday.  Eagle  photo by Christina Carrega.

Prakash Churaman (right) with his attorneys Ron Kuby (middle) and Rhiya Trivedi in Queens Supreme Court before trial Wednesday. Eagle photo by Christina Carrega.

By Christina Carrega

Almost four years have passed since a 15-year-old Queens boy confessed to participating in the murder of his friend during a home invasion. The morning of his arrest, police woke him from his sleep, brought him into custody and questioned him.

On Wednesday morning, the case against , now 19, began in Queens Supreme Court, where a jury will determine if the videotaped confession he gave while in police custody was coerced and if testimony from an elderly “earwitness” is reliable enough to land a conviction.

Churaman was arrested on Dec. 9, 2014, five days after his friend’s brother Taquane Clark was shot to death during a home invasion on 144th Street in Jamaica. He has spent nearly four years on Rikers Island.

“That man committed the ultimate act of betrayal,” said Assistant District Attorney Andrea Medina during her opening statements. “The decisions this man made cost the life of Taquane Clark. He betrayed the entire family that gave him a place to sleep, clothes to wear and fed him.”

Churaman allegedly planned to break into Clark’s second-floor apartment to steal marijuana with Elijah Gough, then 28, and a third man known to authorities as “Trouble.”

Around 6 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2014, Clark’s disabled grandmother Olive Legister, then 74, and uncle Jonathan Legister, then 27, were home together when a masked and armed Churaman allegedly knocked on the door.

Unable to see who was at the door, Jonathan walked down the stairs, opened the door and was attacked by Gough with pepper spray as Churaman and “Trouble” pushed their way in, Medina said.

As the fumes of the toxic spray engulfed the apartment, Churaman allegedly held Olive at gunpoint in the kitchen.

“She begged him not to kill her and this defendant said ‘Mama, you’re not gonna die.’ That’s when she realized it was ‘Nick’ and saw some of his face through the mask and kept the information to herself,” Medina said.Ra

As Churaman allegedly kept the elderly woman in the kitchen with a gun to her forehead, Jonathan struggled to grab the weapon from “Trouble.” Jonathan was shot in his stomach and leg and another shot went off in the back of the apartment in Clark’s bedroom. The trio fled as neighbors called the police and EMS.

Gough, who was also shot during the botched robbery, was found and arrested by police in shrubbery nearby the crime scene. Gough, now 31, was convicted after a jury trial in February and sentenced to 65 years to life in prison.

“It was a very dramatic and violent scene, a lot of yelling in the house,” FDNY Paramedic Daniel Campanelli told the jurors.

Clark was shot in the face and the bullet lodged in his neck. Campanelli pronounced Clark dead at the scene.

Jonathan was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where he spent 10 days for treatment.

Meanwhile, Churaman was taken to the 113th Precinct and questioned by detectives with his mother by his side.

“The detectives said he needed to confess because they had all this evidence that they actually didn’t have. They fed him information … Listen closely to see if this was truly a confession,” said defense attorney Rhiya Trivedi during her opening statement.

Trivedi and partner Ron Kuby hope the jurors will decide that the prosecutor’s lack of evidence — no forensics, DNA, fingerprints or fibers from a mask — prove Churaman’s innocence.

“They threatened him with 25, 35 years to in prison sentences. For two hours and 45 minutes, the detectives only saw him as guilty,” Trivedi said. “At 15, he asked himself ‘When will this ever end?’ and as you watch you’ll also ask yourself the same thing.”

Medina intends to show the jurors almost three hours of Churaman’s interaction with the police, call Olive as an identification witness and bring other law enforcement officials to testify during the trial. Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth C. Holder presides.

“Olive’s identification was by voice alone. Her identification was inconsistent. The words changes, his voice, the word patterns changes. Listen to all of her testimony,” said Trivedi.

Churaman is facing up to 15 years to life as a juvenile offender for the top charge of second-degree murder. He is also charged with assault, kidnapping, burglary and attempted robbery.

“Trouble” is still on the run.

Children accused of crimes will no longer share Churaman’s experience of growing up on Rikers since the state instituted the “Raise the Age” law Oct. 1, all defendants under 18 were moved to a juvenile detention facility in the Bronx.