Antonio Martin-Brown was caught stealing money from the 62-year-old Kenmore bar owner with whom the teen was having an intimate relationship, a prosecutor said Thursday during an opening statement at the murder trial.
When Vincent J. Cottone reported the theft to police and demanded his money back, the young Martin-Brown killed the owner of Malone’s Bar & Grill, Assistant District Attorney Paul E. Bonanno said.
But Martin-Brown’s attorney said his client felt scorned by Cottone, intended to be caught stealing the check and used it as a test of their relationship. Cottone was killed during a heated early-morning argument over the check in Cottone’s home when Martin-Brown lost his temper, defense attorney Andrew C. LoTempio said.
In his opening statement at the nonjury trial before State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia, Bonanno said Martin-Brown stole the check to pay his DWI fines even after Cottone refused his request to borrow the money.
“The defendant’s greed led him to steal,” Bonanno said. “Vincent Cottone was murdered because of this defendant’s greed and this defendant’s anger when his theft was discovered.”
Bonanno painted a grisly picture of what was discovered the morning of May 19, 2013, at Cottone’s home on Landers Road in Kenmore. A Malone’s employee went to the home after Cottone failed to show up for a 9:30 a.m. staff meeting.
She discovered a bloody scene of “horrific violence” in a bedroom, where Cottone’s throat had been slit and his body bruised, he said.
Bar manager Krista Orlando, who found the body and was among the witnesses to testify Thursday, said she knew Cottone by his middle name, Jim.
“He was my friend,” said Orlando, whose father was the previous owner of Malone’s. “He was my boss. He was like a dad to me.”
She entered the home after failing to reach Cottone on his cellphone and noticing blood on the ground, door handle and stairway wall. “I saw Jim laying face-down in a pool of blood,” she said. Cottone’s two dogs were by his side, she said.She called 911 and Kenmore Police Chief Peter J. Breitnauer testified that he was the first officer to arrive on scene, about one minute after the call.
“She was hysterical,” Breitnauer said of Orlando. “She screamed, ‘He’s in there. It’s all blood. I think he’s dead.’ ”
Breitnauer testified that he observed bloody sneaker prints on the stairs and elsewhere in the house leading up to the bedroom. Under cross-examination, LoTempio asked if there appeared to be any attempt to clear away the blood as part of a cover-up. The chief replied that there did not.
Cottone had filed a report about the stolen check with Kenmore police less than 48 hours earlier, Bonanno said.
“Vincent Cottone was murdered for one reason,” Bonanno said. “He went to the police and reported a theft.”
After the murder, Martin-Brown tried to cover up his involvement by disposing of his blood-stained clothing, trying to clean his vehicle and denying to Kenmore detectives that he was involved when they questioned him later, Bonanno said.
“They knew each other and had an intimate relationship, but that’s not what this case is about,” Bonanno said.
LoTempio argued Martin-Brown, then 19, was taken advantage of by the much older Cottone. The two had met at an adult bookstore and had an ongoing sexual relationship for about four or five months before the murder, he said. They went out to movies and restaurants, he said. Over that time, Martin-Brown developed feelings for Cottone, LoTempio said.
“He thought there was something more to the relationship than there was,” LoTempio said of his client.
Martin-Brown felt hurt and used after Cottone refused to let him borrow the money, LoTempio said. He took the check anyway, “out of spite,” he said.
“This case is not about a stolen check, literally,” LoTempio said. “It’s about a stolen check and what it symbolizes. The check symbolized disrespect, use and abuse of a 19-year-old young man by a 62-year-old man. Martin-Brown wrote his own name on the check, made no effort to disguise himself at the bank and deposited the $800 in his own bank account – all signs he intended to be caught, LoTempio said.
“The check was basically a test,” LoTempio said. “‘Do you care about me or do you not care about me?’”
The defense does not dispute that Martin-Brown killed Cottone but argued Martin-Brown’s actions the morning of the murder can be explained by the “extreme emotional disturbance” he was experiencing at the time.
“The 62-year-old is in a position to not take advantage of the relationship and that’s what happened here,” LoTempio said.
The attorney also said his client was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, grew up without a father and was bullied in school for his sexual orientation.
“Mr. Martin-Brown has daddy issues,” LoTempio said.
After leaving work at Jim’s Steakout, Martin-Brown went to the Kenmore home around 5:30 a.m. on May 19 at Cottone’s request, LoTempio said.
“All Mr. Cottone cared about was getting the money back,” he said.
The verbal argument turned physical with pushing and shoving, then violent when Martin-Brown grabbed a box-cutter from Cottone’s dresser and slashed his throat, LoTempio said. The defendant also used a statue and a radio to bludgeon Cottone, he said.
Kenmore Police Detective Joseph Vacanti testified that he noticed that the name of the complainant on the stolen check report matched the name of the homicide victim.
Detectives used bank surveillance images to track down Martin-Brown at a home in Buffalo on the Monday after the murder and questioned him at police headquarters about the stolen check, which he admitted to stealing, Vacanti said.
“He was very calm, very cool,” Vacanti said. “I really found him to be a very pleasant person.”
Martin-Brown was arrested June 7 and charged with second-degree murder and petit larceny for allegedly stealing the check. A conviction of the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter under the extreme emotional disturbance defense could carry a prison term of between five and 25 years, LoTempio said.
The trial resumes today.