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Teens accused of murder to go to trial

Friday, January 04, 2013 - Updated: 6:09 PM

By HEATHER NELLIS

Recorder News Staff

FONDA -- From the galley in the Montgomery County Supreme Courtroom Thursday, Laura Lewis of Amsterdam said she felt one emotion when she saw the two teenagers accused of shooting her nephew and his friend to death in the town of Florida this summer.

"Fury," she said.

Lewis and more than 30 other relatives and friends first watched 16-year-old Anthony E. Brasmeister walk into the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit, cuffed at his wrists and ankles.

He was arraigned before Fulton County Court Judge Polly Hoye in answering the eight-count murder indictment handed up Dec. 20, and remanded back to the county jail.

Next, 15-year-old Matthew C. Phelps appeared, wearing a charcoal-gray sweatsuit and a bulletproof vest, the chains linking his legs clinking beneath him.

Both pleaded not guilty to murdering 13-year-old Jonathan DeJesus and 16-year-old Paul Damphier, both of Amsterdam. They were shot and killed in a soybean field near Phelps' home in July, their bodies not found until 10 days later.

Phelps and Brasmeister exercised their rights to let their attorneys speak for them, Gloversville lawyer Robert Abdella for Phelps, Rensselaer Attorney Joseph McCoy for Brasmeister.

Hoye set a June 17 trial.

Despite the anger the victims' kin said they felt while seeing the boys accused of killing their family, the court room was still during the teens' brief arraignments, most quietly weeping and comforting each other.

DeJesus' grandfather, Charles Tiano of Gloversville, said it was tough to bite his tongue.

"It's hard to control yourself," he said. "It was frustrating to watch their parents say good-bye to them. We couldn't do that."

Damphier's great aunt Bridget Oshaugnessy didn't hold back, though, when Phelps was escorted from the courthouse to a Montgomery County Sheriff's Office patrol vehicle waiting outside.

"Do you have any apologies for what you've done to our family, Matt?" she asked him, quietly at first. Louder, she called him a "murderer," and a "coward," and threatened that justice would be served.

Phelps was silent as he lumbered toward the cruiser. He was remanded back to a juvenile detention center in Albany because of his age.

Brasmeister, of Belfance Road, town of Amsterdam, and Phelps, of Snooks Corners Road, town of Florida, each face two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The indictment says Phelps and Brasmeister are liable for each other's alleged conduct.

District Attorney James E. "Jed" Conboy previously told the Recorder the shooting incident took place sometime in the early evening of July 9. He said the cause of death was related to gunshot wounds, and the victims were identified by their dental records. He would not elaborate on the autopsy.

When asked if weapons have been recovered in connection to the incident, Conboy said two .22 caliber rifles are being examined by an ammunition identification expert.

One was recovered from Phelps' grandparents' home on Snooks Corners Road home in the town of Florida, the other from Brasmeister's father's home, the district attorney said.

Because trial is pending, Conboy would not discuss a motive. Three of the four involved in the incident were classmates -- Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Thomas Perillo in late July confirmed Damphier, DeJesus and Brasmeister were all students of the district, but Phelps was not.

Conboy said Phelps lived with his mother in the state of Florida but had been staying with his grandparents for the summer.

Neither Phelps nor Brasmeister had prior criminal histories. Both will be tried as adults "because of the nature of the allegations," Conboy said previously.

Lewis, DeJesus' aunt, said the family continues to struggle with its loss, and was especially difficult during the recent holiday season. She carried a memory book with her that had pictures of her nephew as a baby, and showed his growth through his 13 years.

"Christmas will never be the same, nothing will ever be the same," she said. "At this point, all we can hope for is justice, that they'll never step in the daylight again, and that they'll spend the rest of their lives behind bars."

"Pauly and Jonathan can't stand here to defend themselves, so we have to stand here for them," Lewis continued. "We have to stand behind Jonathan and Pauly's memory."

If convicted of the murder charges, Brasmeister faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. Phelps faces a maximum of nine years to life. Both could be stacked for consecutive sentences because of the two counts.

Abdella and McCoy declined to address the media.

     

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