A former American Express executive – accused of murdering an acclaimed Long Island equestrian – allegedly committed the crime because he was so enraged the victims had told his ex-employer a lawsuit he filed against the company held no weight, Suffolk County prosecutors said Wednesday.
Brett Knight, 45, appeared Wednesday for arraignment after being indicted on murder, attempted murder, weapons possession and harassment charges. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Knight told investigators he had been plotting to murder Ross Reisner and longtime partner Kevin Murray after becoming enraged and moving from the couple’s East Setauket home in 2010.
“He convinced himself that they were responsible for everything that had gone wrong,” Spota said.
Knight had worked at American Express from 1990 until he was fired in 2009. In November 2009, he filed a federal lawsuit against the company and claimed he was wrongfully terminated when a manager learned he was HIV-positive.
“American Express felt they were right in what they had done in terminating him,” Spota said. “Apparently Mr. Reisner and Mr. Murray felt that and concurred with American Express.”
At a news conference after the arraignment, Spota said Knight had “imparted certain information to them [Reisner and Murray], that they knew was completely contrary to the allegations he had set forth in his complaint.”
Prosecutors said Murray penned a letter to American Express claiming he knew the allegations made against the company were baseless. After Knight – then a tenant in the East Setauket home – learned about the letter in July 2010, he became furious and went on a rampage with a sword, Spota said. Police were called to the home after Knight allegedly slashed various items and was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges.
He was evicted from the home and later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. A judge ordered him not to contact Reisner or Murray, Spota said.
The lawsuit was eventually settled and the terms of the settlement were not released, but Spota said the resolution was “clearly not in favor and not in Mr. Knight’s satisfaction.”
A spokeswoman for American Express, Marina Norville, told Examiner.com earlier this month that Knight’s job had been “displaced due to reengineering at the time.” The company did not comment on the lawsuit.
Spota said Knight believed Reisner and Murray, in his view, betrayed him. “In his mind this directly contradicted the outcome of the case.”
In April 2013, Knight allegedly began to send the couple threatening text messages and then sent a box with a dead pigeon and a note to the home. A portion of that note, provided by prosecutors, quotes Knight as writing: “All that brought them joy and happiness will be swept away, and they shall be disfigured unbearable to look upon their wretched souls. And the thirst of justice upon hearing their screams of pain and torment shall be quenched!”
In a second message, on April 18, Knight allegedly quoted a Bible verse, which was portrayed in the movie “Pulp Fiction.”
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and tyranny of evil men. And I shall strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers…prepare yourself for a painful end.”
Police were notified about the harassing messages and arrested Knight on the misdemeanor harassment charges. He never appeared at a Sept. 4 court hearing and a warrant was issued for his arrest, officials said.
Assistant District Attorney Rafael Pearl said Knight showed up to the couple’s home on Sept. 24 and watched them through a kitchen window. Armed with a .40 caliber handgun, prosecutors said, Knight is accused of firing 11 shots through the window. One of the bullets struck Reisner in the back – killing him. A second bullet grazed Murray in the arm.
“In Knight’s own words, had he had his way, there would have been two murders,” Spota said Wednesday. Knight also told detectives he woke up every morning “seething” at the two men.
After the shooting, Knight reportedly drove a motorcycle to Tennessee, where he was apprehended Oct. 9. He told investigators he fled to the state because he wanted to see the Smoky Mountains.
“He’ll never see anything but the bars of a jail cell now,” Spota said.
Knight’s lawyer, Michael Brown, said his client continues to maintain his innocence, despite giving oral, written and videotaped admissions to detectives.
“Mr. Knight is obviously looking forward to defending himself on this action,” Brown said. “He’s indicated there’s no reason why he’d commit such an act.”
Knight is due back in court on Nov. 19.