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Neighbors, investigators testify in murder, arson case

May 19, 2016 06:34 PM

TROY – On the second full day of testimony in Rensselaer County Court, the next-door neighbors and responding firefighters, plus the 911 dispatcher and NYS Fire Investigator all testified in the trial of Gabriel Vega. He’s accused of killing Vanessa Milligan, who was nine months pregnant allegedly with his baby, and then setting her apartment on fire.

A jury of nine women and seven men are listening to testimony, overseen by Judge Andrew Ceresia.

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Vega’s lawyer Frederick Rench says his client is the victim of a vicious rumor mill in Lansingburgh and that’s it. Vega appeared in court today wearing a salmon-colored buttoned-down shirt, khaki pants, black-rimmed glasses his hair in a ponytail.

After Corine Turio wrapped up her testimony, saying Vega ran into her car while running from the scene, countered by Rench who got Turio to admit she knew Milligan’s father and suggested she may not be believable.

After that, Michael Veshia, 911 dispatcher with Rensselaer County for over 30 years, confirmed the 911 call recording that said “the whole house is on fire,” from caller Ashanti Purvis the night of April 3, 2014.

Next came Nicholas Cook, 22, who lived at 269 5th Avenue, next door to Milligan’s multi-family house at 271 5th Avenue. He and Vanessa Milligan grew up together and said that after hearing a loud bang that night and “almost immediately looked out the front window” but it could have been up to 10 seconds. That countered his statement to police from two years ago when he said “immediately,” Rench pointed out on cross examination.

Cook said he saw a man in the parking lot of the Pizza Hut across the street and yelled to his brother Jeff, “C’mon.”

“I just had a very strong feeling that this person might have something to do with the bang and the fire,” Cook said under direct testimony from prosecutor Andrew Botts, Rensselaer County Asst. District Attorney. “He was getting ready to run but at the same time, still watching the house…like a baseball player was getting ready to steal a base…after a few seconds of watching, he ran” behind the Pizza Hut.

Nick Cook and his brother Jeffrey, 25, who also testified, got in Nick’s pickup truck, made a u-turn and tried to chase the man, who eventually disappeared off an alley behind the Pizza Hut, he said. They both returned to their house to try and help during the fire.

Jeffrey Cook said he grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed from the upstairs window of his daughter’s bedroom down to Vanessa Milligan’s window, where the fire was coming from while his brother tried to do it from downstairs between the houses. But then it “gusted back out the window…I figured that everybody was out,” Jeffrey Cook said when asked why he didn’t try to find Vanessa Milligan.

But in the afternoon, Troy firefighters testified they had word that there was someone trapped.

“The fire extended 10-20 feet from the rear window on the south side of the building,” said Richard Caola Jr., then part of Engine Co. #1 on that day. “There was considerable smoke, visibility was zero…we were on our hands and knees…” he testified.

Now Battalion Chief Thomas Miter, who was a Captain with the Troy Rescue Squad that night testified: “Visibility was zero, we could see nothing,” then describing “…my hand dropped down to a victim…I got within inches of her body. She was already deceased. No doubt in my mind. She was very badly burned…it wasn’t much of a bed, sir,” he then said to ADA Botts.

Rench did not cross examine any of the three Troy firefighters.

Then, late in the day, NYS Fire Investigator Richard Daus, who has been an investigator in Rensselaer County for 30 years and with the Office of Fire Prevention and Control for 27 years testified that a K9 investigation team gave “positive indications of a presence of an ignitable liquid” in Milligan’s bedroom and on her body.

“The coloring was that of char,” Miter testified, “hard to the touch.”

The trial continues on Friday.


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WNYT Staff

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