By Christina Carrega
A Queens teenager was “lucky” to receive a nine years-to-life sentence on Tuesday for masterminding a botched robbery that left his friend dead and another man seriously injured, a judge said.
Prakash Churaman was 15 when he was arrested for the Dec. 5, 2014 home invasion on 144th Street in Jamaica that left Taquane Clarke dead, Jonathan Legister with two gunshot wounds and Olive Legister emotionally scarred for life.
Legister, 78, testified in two separate trials in Queens Supreme Court that she recognized the voice of the person who held the silver gun to her head as Churaman. A jury found Churaman guilty of second-degree murder, kidnapping, attempted robbery and criminal possession of a weapon in November. Another jury convicted Churaman’s co-defendant, 32-year-old Elijah Gough, in February.
At Churaman’s sentencing on Tuesday afternoon, Justice Kenneth Holder was shocked that the now 19-year-old continued to maintain his innocence and claimed to have information that could have helped his case.
“‘I was 15 blocks away with friends, but they won’t testify for me.’ An incredible statement, all things considered,” Justice Holder said to Churaman before rendering the nine years to life sentence.
After spending four years on Rikers Island, Churaman’s family retained attorneys Ron Kuby and Rhiya Trivedi to take on the case. The attorneys said in opening and closing statements that Churaman was “spoon-fed” information about the case so that authorities could obtain a videotaped confession, nothing about any possible alibi witnesses.
“Your lawyers would have told you that if you had the names of people you were with when this incident occurred, you should give up their names, so they could be interviewed by the DA,” Justice Holder said. “They (the alibi witnesses) could of been found and spoken to … but you and I know that there really are no alibi witnesses — that’s a bold-face lie!”
Churaman was friends with members of Clarke’s family and was a regular guest in their home where he was affectionately known as “Nick,” according to trial testimony.
Assistant District Attorney Andrea Medina said Churaman spearheaded the burglary to steal marijuana and other property.
As a juvenile offender, Churaman was facing up to 15 years to life in prison, prosecutors said. If he was 17 or 18 years old at the time of the crime, he was looking at 25 years to life for the murder charge. Justice Holder sentenced Gough to 65 years to life.
“One thing your truly lucky about, is that you committed this crime when you were 15 years old because otherwise, you probably would not see the light of day,” said Justice Holder. “But as a juvenile, the system spares you from having to suffer the full impact of the actions you undertook.”
Churaman declined to offer condolences or show remorse to Clarke’s heartbroken family, who were in court for the sentencing.
As part of the sentence, Churaman is credited for the time he has served on Rikers Island.
“We are disappointed that our client will have to wait another 5 years before his first opportunity to show the Parole Board who he is,” said Trivedi in a statement to the Eagle. “And [we are] disheartened that the only thing we can offer to mitigate the tragic loss suffered by Taquane Clarke's family is the continued and lengthy incarceration of another young person.”
A third gunman Jonathan Wells, known to authorities as “Trouble,” was not charged for Clarke’s murder but is currently serving a stint in an upstate prison for unrelated charges.