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Suspects in Sutton Place Murder Indicted and Denied Bail

By Shaye Weaver | May 11, 2017 8:13am
 From left to right:  Max Gemma, Lawrence Dilione, attorney Michael Pappa, and James Rackover.
From left to right: Max Gemma, Lawrence Dilione, attorney Michael Pappa, and James Rackover.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

MANHATTAN — Two men suspected of murdering a 26-year-old Hofstra graduate six months ago after partying at a Sutton Place apartment pleaded "not guilty" during a Manhattan Supreme Court hearing Wednesday.

James Rackover, 25, and fellow suspect Lawrence Dilione, 28, were indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney on second degree murder charges and concealment of a human corpse. Each faces a life sentence if found guilty.

Dilione had been out on bail and Rackover was being held on $300,000 cash bail, $1 million bond.

Another partygoer, Max Gemma, 29, is suspected of cleaning up the murder and was previously charged with hindering prosecution and tampering, concealing, or destroying physical evidence alongside Rackover and Dilione. Gemma is free on bail.

Rackover, Dilione, and Gemma are suspected in the murder of Joseph Communale. The victim's body, which had been stabbed 15 times in the torso and burned, was found Nov. 16 — three days after he attended a party alongside the three suspects, according to the District Attorney's office.

Dillione told police that he and Rackover drove the body to Oceanport, New Jersey, and buried it behind a flower shop.

"The brutality of this horrific murder was compounded by the defendants’ efforts to dispose of the victim’s body in an attempt to evade prosecution,” said District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in a statement. “We will prosecute this case to the full extent of the law to achieve justice for Joseph and the Comunale family.”

The clean-cut trio appeared with solemn faces in front of Judge Charles Solomon on Wednesday— Gemma and Dilione wearing suits and Rackover in a white shirt and khakis. 

Each suspect pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors requested that Rackover and Dilione be imprisoned rather than requesting a bail amount because the men are a flight risk since they could face life in prison.

Prosecutors said they had "solid" evidence, including Dilione's statement to police and a video of the men at the party. They also mentioned Rackover's criminal record — which includes removing a court-ordered ankle bracelet while on probation and fleeing from authorities in 2009 — and Dilione's alleged "illicit drug" use as further reasoning to keep them in prison. Furthermore, prosecutors said they have no ties to New York City, making the flee risk higher.

Rackover's attorney, Maurice Sercarz, argued that Rackover has been "languishing" in jail and that he's no flight risk or danger to the community.

Sercarz complained that he hasn't been able to rightly defend his client because the District Attorney's office has been withholding their evidence.

"I haven't seen an autopsy in six months. I haven't seen DNA evidence, fingerprint or crime scene evidence," he said to reporters after the hearing. "There's been too much pressure on the District Attorney's office and police ... these are precisely the cases where allegations turn out to be unfounded. For those of you listening, I'm begging you to do an exercise in forbearance."

"Mr. Rackover feels alone and frightened, for good reason," he added. "I'm going to do everything I can to get him out."

The District Attorney's office agreed to release its evidence, which would take a few weeks.

Dilione's attorney, Michael Pappa, defended his client by saying that he has had no serious run-ins with the law and that if he wanted to run, he could have done so two or three months ago.

Dilione's statement to police about burying the body was given without his lawyers around, he said.

"If Larry Dilione was going to head for the hills, he could have headed for the hills two months or three months ago," he said. "There's a difference between Mr. Rackover and Mr. Dilione. Mr. Dilione has provided significant assistance to the police in this investigation."

He requested that in lieu of jail, that he be given an ankle bracelet and put under house arrest and a curfew, except for when he goes to work for his family's moving business.

Solomon denied bail for Rackover and Dilione.

All three are due back in court June 6.