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Couple plead guilty in pharmacy killings driven by addiction

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As dozens of victims’ relatives looked on, a couple pleaded guilty Thursday in a pharmacy holdup that left four people shot to death in a drugstore in a quiet suburb on Long Island.

The June 19 incident in Medford, east of New York City, marked the worst mass shooting on Long Island since 1993, when a gunman opened fire on a commuter train and killed six people. In the recent incident, David Laffer pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the shootings inside Haven Drugs. His wife, Melinda Brady, who drove the getaway car, pleaded guilty to robbery.

Law enforcement officials have said the pair held up the pharmacy because they wanted prescription painkillers, which surveillance cameras showed Laffer stuffing into his backpack after the killings. The same cameras also showed the chilling events that Sunday morning, when a man entered the pharmacy shortly after it opened, drew a .45-caliber handgun out of his backpack, and opened fire without warning.

The dead included the 45-year-old pharmacist; a 17-year-old high school girl who worked at the store; and two customers, a 71-year-old man picking up heart medicine for his wife and a 33-year-old single mother of two who was due to be married soon. The customers were shot from behind as they walked into the store, unaware of the holdup in process.

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It was three days before the couple were arrested, and those who knew them expressed astonishment that they could be involved in such a crime. Laffer, who had served in the Army as an intelligence analyst, had no criminal record. Brady denied guilt when she was arrested, blaming her husband but saying he had held up the drugstore ‘because he lost his job and I was sick.’

Suffolk County Dist. Atty. Thomas Spota said in June that Laffer was motivated ‘to feed an ugly addiction to prescription painkillers’ containing the powerful opiate hydrocodone.

Brady, who is 29, faces up to 25 years in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 17. Her 33-year-old husband will get four life sentences, with no possibility of parole. ‘The only way he will get out of prison is if he dies,’ Reuters quoted Laffer’s attorney Eric Naiburg as saying.

During the plea hearing in a courtroom in Riverhead, on Long Island, Brady admitted that she and Laffer had staked out several pharmacies before the holdup and had chosen Haven Drugs as their target because it was a small, relatively isolated business. Evidence found in their home after the shootings included the weapon and thousands of painkilling pills.

The shootings underscored law enforcement officials’ concerns about hydrocodone, the chief ingredient in Vicodin and scores of other prescription painkillers.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opiate in the nation, with more than 36 million prescriptions issued in the first quarter of 2011, and that abuse of it has increased among all age groups. There were 31 deaths associated with hydrocodone use in 2009, according to the DEA, and more than 86,000 emergency room visits.

Mary Moran, the grandmother of one of the victims, told the Associated Press she was ‘very, very happy’ that the guilty pleas would save relatives from having to endure a trial and a replay of the gruesome details of the crime.

‘We don’t have to think of my granddaughter and the way she died. We can go on and remember her the way she lived,’ she said.

-- Tina Susman in New York

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