The video seemed clear.
A man strode toward the Duo Tapas Bar & Lounge in Yonkers, a gun in his hand. When he got near the front door, patrons scattered as gunfire erupted. He backed away. A busboy, Antonio Antoine-Fils, lay dying in the vestibule. A bouncer was also shot.
The man in the video, Yaquba McGougain, returned to his car, put the gun inside, and remained at the scene, where police took him to headquarters for questioning. He was arrested that day, Feb. 6, 2022, and the following month indicted on charges of second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
But the murder case unraveled as a result of a dogged defense lawyer and prosecutors willing to take a second look at what seemed to police and the victim’s relatives as an open and shut case.
The video did not show the shots being fired. Or McGougain raising his gun. And a review of other forensic evidence revealed that the location where McGougain stopped outside the bar was not consistent with the trajectory of the bullets and gunshot residue on the victim was unlikely to have come from a gun as far away as McGougain was standing.
McGougain, 31, of Peekskill, was allowed to plead guilty this summer only to the weapon charge and on Monday he got the agreed upon sentence, eight years in state prison. It was a far cry from the 15-years-to life minimum he faced if he had been convicted of murder.
Still, Antoine-Fils’ sister, Melissa Roman, excoriated the defendant for his actions that night and how it has left her family and friends with “so much pain, heartache, sadness and loss.”
She said McGougain would never be the man her brother was, always uplifting people, a “breath of fresh air” and “the sweetest, most purest soul I ever met.”
“Antonio never had hate in his heart,” she told acting state Supreme Court Justice James McCarty. “He loved everyone and everyone loved him. As I used to tell him, ‘You’re too friendly, bro’. That’s just who he was. He brought joy and positivity. He was fun to be around.”
A mother herself, Roman said it is hardest watching their mother continue to grieve her youngest son.
“You ripped a piece of her heart and soul from her,” Roman said. “While you get to sleep, eat, and breathe fresh air and speak to your mother, my mother doesn’t get that. She gets to visit a stone that can’t speak back to her.”
She told McGougain that “God will have a special place for you when it’s time. And that’s called hell”, punctuating her remarks by calling him an expletive.
Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Strongin said the investigation began the morning of the killing and never stopped. As prosecutors prepared for a murder trial they focused on four areas of evidence, he said, the videos, gunshot residue, distances and ballistics, meeting with experts in all the fields and working with the county forensics lab.
“The District Attorney’s Office understands that for the victim’s family this disposition is painful and did not provide the closure that they may have been seeking,” Strongin said. “Based upon all the evidence however, it was and is our office’s position that with respect to the first three counts in the indictment we would not be able to meet our burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Much of the closer look was driven by McGougain’s lawyer, Joshua Martin, who looked at the crime-scene evidence he was handed last year and didn’t believe his client was the shooter.
Martin said it was determined – based on enhanced video showing a crack in the sidewalk near where McGougain stood – that he was about 12 feet from the front door of the bar. That was significant because tests of the 9mm Taurus semi-automatic recovered from McGougain’s car found gunshot residue would not have traveled much more than six feet.
“I commend the DA’s Office for being willing to listen and look at it and use science and not opinion and get to where the case needed to be,” Martin said. “This was exactly what needed to happen to get the right outcome.”
In 2002, working as a prosecutor in the Queens DA’s Office, he handled the review of a 1994 murder conviction that was overturned after new evidence was discovered. That experience has informed his work ever since.
“There’s nothing more stressful in this business than having a client you think is actually innocent of something,” he said. “I never thought my guy got far enough to have done this.”
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: McGougain sentenced to weapon charge after murder charge fizzles
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