A 26-year-old man set out to enjoy a night in New York City but instead “found a horrible and unprovoked death," allegedly at the hands of James Rackover, the surrogate son of a celebrity jeweler, and his friend, prosecutors told a jury at the start of Rackover’s murder trial.
“It is James Rackover’s monstrous indifference for human life that has brought us here today,” Assistant District Attorney Peter Casolaro said in prosecutors' opening argument Thursday morning.
Rackover and co-defendant Lawrence Dilione are accused of acting in concert to beat and stab Joseph Comunale to death inside Rackover’s luxury Manhattan apartment on November 13, 2016, after a night of drinking and doing cocaine, as previously reported by Oxygen.com.
But Rackover’s lawyer, Maurice Sercarz, told the jury that there “was no animosity” between Comunale and Rackover, and that it was Dilione alone who killed Comunale “in a drug and alcohol fueled attack.”
Sercarz said that Dilione regularly carried a folding knife, and used it at a late night after-party at Rackover’s apartment to open beer bottles and to even snort cocaine off of.
“A knife was his implement of choice, put a little on the blade and allow people to sniff off the blade,” Sercarz explained.
James, 27, was the “companion” of Jeffrey Rackover, 58, but the two concealed the true nature of their relationship, Casolaro, the prosecutor, told the jury.
“Jeffrey Rackover masqueraded as the defendant’s father,” Casolaro said.
The elder Rackover is a jeweler whose A-list clientele includes Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, and Melania Trump. He announced years ago that he had a long-lost son turn up and was embracing him as his own, according to DNAInfo, a local news website in New York City.
However, it eventually came out that the pair were not biologically related, and a lawsuit brought by Comunale's father alleged they were actually lovers, reported The New York Post, with the older man taking care of James, including paying the rent for his apartment and supplying him with a Mercedes, among other things.
Although Rackover and Dilione are charged with acting together, they are being tried separately because both blame each other for the murder.
A third man, Max Gemma, 30, was also inside the apartment when Comunale was murdered but did not take part in the killing, Casolaro said. Gemma is accused of helping the two dispose of Comunale’s remains, and will also be tried separately.
After the killing, Rackover and Dilione wrapped Comunale’s corpse in Saran wrap, dropped it from the window of Rackover’s fourth-floor apartment, stuffed it into the trunk of Rackover’s Mercedes, burned it and buried it in a shallow grave in the New Jersey town where Dilione grew up, Casolaro said.
Sercarz, Rackover’s lawyer, conceded that Rackover helped dispose of Comunale’s body, but said that wasn’t murder.
“Nothing in life is black and white,” Sercarz said, “We paint in shades of gray.”
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