By David Brand
The fight of Mixed Martial Artist (MMA) Sergio DaSilva’s life went one more round Monday as the jury failed to return a verdict on the first day of deliberations in his bank robbery trial.
With DaSilva’s son and daughter watching from the audience, defense attorney David Fish and Assistant District Attorney Brianne Richards delivered their closing statements before jurors broke for deliberations.
“We’re here to talk about the moment on Aug. 24, 2017 when the defendant decided to take a break from being dad and became a bank robber,” Richards told the jury.
DaSilva, 32, is charged with first- and third-degree robbery for allegedly leaping over a teller window partition at a Citibank in Astoria, threatening bank employees and stealing $44,964 in August 2017. The first-degree robbery charge is contingent upon the jury finding that DaSilva used a gun or other weapon.
Surveillance video shows a masked man with a height and build similar to DaSilva climbing over the 7-foot high partition, grabbing cash, scrambling back over the wall and exiting the bank.
The entire incident took just 1 minute 19 seconds.
During the defense’s case, DaSilva’s young son and daughter testified that their dad was at home with them the morning of the robbery. DaSilva lives about a block away from the bank on Steinway Street.
Richards, however, said the presence of the children on the witness stand was meant to elicit “sympathy” from the jury. She questioned the veracity of the children’s testimony nearly a year and a half after the event and pointed to inconsistencies in their description of the day.
“I am not calling the kids liars. I’m not going to go there because they’re too young,” she said. “I submit to you they were mistaken because their parent suggested to them what happened that day.”
Detectives at the scene lifted fingerprints from the top of the glass that matched DaSilva’s, Richards said. DaSilva was arrested and received a violation for an undisclosed incident in 2008. That violation has been sealed, a spokeswoman for the Queens District Attorney said, but it was not redacted from the fingerprint card that jurors received. Judge Leslie Leach denied Fish’s request for a mistrial based on the unredacted material.
In addition to the fingerprints, only DaSilva had the “opportunity, physical ability [and] physical appearance” consistent with the suspect and the crime. The suspect had a similar build to DaSilva as well as “thick, dark eyebrows” like DaSilva’s, bank teller Maria Garcia said during her testimony.
Fish pushed back against the fingerprint evidence, calling fingerprint identification an “art, not a science.”
He also criticized the eyebrows comparison by Richards and her “suggestion that the person you see jumping up over the counter could only be a professional fighter, had to be an MMA fighter.”
Fish nor Richards revealed DaSilva’s profession to the jurors during their opening statements.
“There are a lot of people in this population between the ages of 25 and 35, who can push themselves onto a counter and over a piece of glass,” he said.
Fish also contested the notion that the suspect was carrying a gun, as the two bank tellers had testified.
“I want you to look at the video very, very carefully,” he said. “Do you see at any point a gesture to a waistband, a bulge, a bump? You’re not going to see anything [that] suggests a firearm.”
Fish and Richards each spoke for about 40 minutes before Leach charged the jury to deliberate. At 2 p.m., jurors sent a note to the judge requesting all evidence and exhibits, surveillance video playback and testimony from one of the bank tellers who said that the suspect threatened to to shoot her and her colleagues if they did not hand over money.
DaSilva, who was released on his own recognizance, squeezed his son’s shoulders inside the courtroom after closing statements and walked with his arm around the boy as they returned to the courtroom after a lunch break. More than a dozen family members and supporters sat in the rows behind DaSilva.
After DaSilva, the attorney and Leach returned to the courtroom, the jury watched the tape of the robbery several times, including in slow motion.
Shortly before the closing statements began, DaSilva tweeted an emoji of two hands praying.
If convicted of first-degree robbery, DaSilva faces up to 25 years in prison.