By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Two men were arraigned Thursday for the murder of an elderly nun after a getaway car allegedly driven by one of them struck and killed her in Harlem.
Dyson Williams, 20, and William Robbins, 18, were both formally charged with second-degree murder and robbery, even though only one of the men was in the car at the time of the crash that led to the death of Sister Mary Celine Graham, 83 on Tuesday.
Prosecutors contend that both were responsible for the murder because Sister Graham was killed in the course of a robbery.
Prosecutors said Williams and Robbins were in the midst of a robbery spree that had begun the night before when their blue Chrysler Pacifica crashed into a Honda Odyssey on Lenox Avenue about 9:40 a.m.
Earlier that morning, the duo had held up a Columbia Law student on Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street, their third robbery of the day, leading police in the area to be on the look out for the blue Chrysler Pacifica, prosecutors said.
Police pulled them over in the car about 9:25 a.m. nearly twenty blocks north of where the stick-up occurred on Lenox Avenue, according to the criminal complaint.
Following police instructions, Robbins stepped out of the vehicle, but Williams slid into the driver's seat and took off back down towards the site of the original robbery, the complaint said.
Minutes later, the Pacifica plowed into a Honda Odyssey and three pedestrians. Sister Graham was pronounced dead at Harlem Hospital, Her aide, 58-year-old Patricia Cruz, was critically injured and three other people, including the Honda driver and her son, had to be taken to the hospital.
Both men were charged with murder, robbery, assault and weapon possession. Each of them admitted to involvement in the robberies when they were in police custody, prosecutors said.
For the arraignment, Robbins retained controversial defense lawyer Mark Jay Heller, who famously represented "Son of Sam" serial killer David Berkowitz and handled Jon Gosselin's divorce.
Heller said police violated Robbins' civil rights by keeping him in custody for 60 hours before he saw a judge and denied that their were legal grounds to charge him with murder because he was, as prosecutors confirmed, not in the vehicle when the nun was struck.
"What theory do they have that this individual, who was in police custody, is responsible for murder in the second degree?" Heller said outside the courtroom.
But Williams' attorney, Daniel Gotlin, also claimed his client was not driving the car. Gotlin said Williams had already made a statement to the DA to that effect.
"He denied that vehemently and denied it to the DA when the DA did a video statement," Gotlin said.
Prosecutors in New York have charged accomplices with murder in the past.
"Sopranos" actor Lillo Brancato was charged with murder in a botched 2005 Bronx home invasion, in which Brancato's partner in crime shot an NYPD officer who confronted them mid-burglary.
Brancato was ultimately acquitted of the murder, but is currently serving 10 years in prison for burglary. Steven Armento, 52, was sentenced to life without parole for gunning down NYPD officer Daniel Enchautegui at point-blank range.
Federal prosecutors charged multiple suspects with murder in the execution-style killing of undercover NYPD Detectives James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews in the back of a car during a Mar. 10, 2003 Staten Island gun bust.
Ronell Wilson, 20, of Staten Island, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for shooting Andrews and Nemorin in the head. Wilson's five co-defendants also pleaded guilty to murder and received between 15 and 27 years to life in prison for helping to plot the heist, ditch the body and hide the murder weapon, prosecutors said.