The murder trial of a man accused of stabbing a friend and dropping his body from a window after a night of cocaine-fueled partying began Monday in New York City.
James Rackover is accused of beating, stabbing, and choking 26-year-old Joseph Comunale to death on November 13, 2016, then throwing his corpse out of a fourth-floor window, stuffing it into the trunk of a car, and burying the remains in a shallow grave in New Jersey, according to the New York Daily News.
James, 27, is considered to be the “surrogate son” of Jeffrey Rackover, 58, a jeweler whose A-list clientele includes Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, and Melania Trump, the Daily News reports. The elder Rackover announced years ago that he had a long-lost son turn up and was embracing him as his own, according to DNAInfo.
However, the younger Rackover's lawyer, Maurice Sercasz, would later confirm that James was not Jeffrey's biological son after all, even though Jeffrey treated him as such. Instead, they actually met at an Upper East Side sports club, where Jeffrey decided to help the younger man, whose born surname is Beaudoin, "straighten his life out." However, the relationship may have been more than just "father and son" — James and Jeffrey were also allegedly lovers, according to a lawsuit brought by Comunale’s father.
“Jeffrey was in whole hog for James,” an anonymous friend of the elder Rackover told DNAInfo. "He gave him his name, the best things life could afford," the friend said, "and he now feels betrayed."
“Everything about the kid went bad,” he added. “He feels taken for a ride, emotionally and financially.”
Lawrence Dilione, 30, a friend of Rackover’s, is also charged with killing Comunale, but a judge ruled he should be tried separately because both blame each other for the murder.
A third man, Max Gemma, 30, was also allegedly in the apartment when Comunale was murdered but did not take part in the killing. He is, however, accused of helping the two dispose of Comunale’s remains, and will also be tried seperately.
Court transcripts show that Dilione testified in an April 2018 hearing for the case that the four were drinking and snorting cocaine at the Sutton Place apartment the elder Rackover rented for his son when Comunale accused Dilione of mooching cigarettes off him, causing Dilione to feel “disrespected."
“I got up and I hit him,” Dilione testified. “I hit him again two times, three max. I picked him up and I slammed him to the ground, which rendered him unconscious.”
That’s when Rackover — who has a lengthy criminal record from Florida, where he served time in jail — stepped in, Dilione said, “kicking, punching, slamming his head into the ground.”
Rackover was concerned they’d “go to jail for a long time for what we just did,” Dilione testified. “I’ve got to get rid of him. I’ve got to kill him,” Rackover allegedly said, according to Dilione.
Dilione said that after beating Comunale, Rackover told him to take off his jeans, and Rackover used them to strangle Comunale to death.
“My pair of jeans was used in strangling Joseph Comunale … I turned around and then I saw a knife being pulled out of Joey’s head,” Dilione testified.
At that point, Dilione said, he told Gemma to leave. Rackover then tried to dismember Comunale in the bathtub, but failed to get the blade through his shoulder, Dilione testified.
“That’s when he got angry and stabbed him in the body multiple times,” Dilione said.
But Dilione admitted that he helped Rackover conceal evidence of the crime and bury Comunale’s remains. He said they wrapped Comunale’s body in sheets, then dropped the corpse out of a window from the fourth-floor apartment.
“I pushed the body out the window,” Dilione testified.
On the street below, they bundled Comunale’s corpse into the elder Rackover’s 2015 Mercedes, and drove it to Oceanport, New Jersey where, Dilione testified, they buried the remains in a shallow grave behind a flower shop.
Rackover denied the charges in a 2017 interview with the New York Daily News.
Dilione "threw me under the bus to save his own ass," Rackover said.
"What motive would I have?" Rackover argued. "What trouble would I be in? Does it make sense to you?"
But prosecutors painted a portrait of Rackover that looks not so much a like a long-lost son reuniting with his father, but that of a grifter.
Among his many alleged misdeeds, Rackover stole $50,000 in cash and a $30,000 watch from the elder Rackover to pay off a drug debt, prosecutors said at a pre-trial hearing in the case on Friday, according to the New York Post.
Jury selection in the case started Monday, and the trial is expected to last into November.
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