Lemrick Nelson

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Lemrick Nelson, Jr. (born July 31, 1975[1]) is an African-American man[2] who stabbed Hasidic student Yankel Rosenbaum to death during the racial unrest of the 1991 Crown Heights riot.[3][4] Though his lawyer did not deny at his trial that Nelson stabbed Rosenbaum, he argued that the killing had nothing to do with Rosenbaum's being Jewish.[5]

Nelson was arrested several times on unrelated charges over the following years. In a third trial for Rosenbaum's murder, Nelson was convicted of violating Rosenbaum's civil rights in the murder, and served a ten-year sentence. Nelson admitted for the first time at his 2003 trial that he had stabbed Rosenbaum.

Early life[edit]

Nelson is the son of immigrants to the United States from Trinidad, Lemrick Nelson Sr. (formerly a baker) and his former wife, Valerie Evans.[6][7][8][9] According to information presented by his lawyers in 1995, Nelson had a troubled childhood. His mother, who reportedly suffered from mental illness, repeatedly tried to abort him before he was born. As an infant, he lived with his mother at a shelter for battered women. Nelson's earliest memories involved a physical altercation between his father and mother. Eventually, his mother abandoned him when he was 18 months old.[10][11] Nelson was identified as "a youngster at risk by the end of the fourth grade."[12] He was an academic underachiever in school, and complaints were made as to his classroom disruption and poor motivation.[12]

Two psychologists interviewed and tested Nelson in November 1994.[12] The government's expert was Dr. Naftali Berrill, and the defendant's expert was Dr. Ife Landsmark.[12] Both found that Nelson had a low average to average I.Q., though Landsmark said that on a language-free exam his score was in a high-average range.[12] The doctors agreed that his school behavior demonstrated that he suffered from a "conduct disorder", but not from any significant psychopathology.[12]

Killing of Yankel Rosenbaum[edit]

Events of August 19-20, 1991[edit]

After seven-year-old African-American Gavin Cato was accidentally struck and killed by an automobile in the motorcade of a prominent Hasidic rabbi on August 19, 1991,[13] some Black residents of Crown Heights rioted. Shortly after the riot began, a group of 12–20 young Black men shouting "Kill the Jew", surrounded Yankel Rosenbaum, a 29-year-old Australian University of Melbourne graduate student who was in the United States conducting doctoral research.[14][15] Nelson stabbed Rosenbaum in the back and was apprehended by police a short time later.[15][16][17] Before being taken to the hospital, Rosenbaum identified Nelson as the person who had stabbed him.[18]

Rosenbaum died from internal bleeding at Kings County Hospital. His medical treatment at the hospital was the subject of later litigation: doctors failed to notice one of Rosenbaum's four stab wounds for almost an hour.[19]

Murder trial, 1992[edit]

Nelson was tried on charges of murder as a hate crime in a New York state court in 1992. Nelson pled not guilty to the charge and denied stabbing Rosenbaum.[20]

Police testified that Nelson had confessed to murdering Rosenbaum to police officers.[21] Prosecutors claimed Nelson had been carrying a blood-stained knife inscribed with the word "KilleR" at the time he was arrested, but Nelson's defense denied the knife was his and suggested police officers had found it elsewhere. No evidence of fingerprints on the knife was presented.[21] Despite media reports that the pants Nelson had been wearing at the time of his arrest had been bloody,[15][16][17] prosecutors did not present evidence of bloodstains upon Nelson's clothing.[21]

Nelson was acquitted of murder on October 29, 1992.[21] The racial composition of the jury (which was considered relevant in the context of the racially-charged atmosphere) is unclear: some contemporary reports described the jury as having consisted of six black jurors, four Hispanic jurors and two white jurors.[22] Later reports described the jury as having consisted of eight black jurors, two white jurors and two Guyanese Americans of undisclosed race[20] or as being "predominantly black".[23] It was claimed that after conclusion of the trial, some jurors attended a party hosted by Nelson's lawyer which honored Nelson as a "hero."[23]

Violation of civil rights trials, 1997 and 2003[edit]

In 1997, Nelson was convicted in federal court of violating Rosenbaum's civil rights. However, that verdict was vacated on appeal due to unfairness in the jury selection process.[20]

A retrial was held in 2003. There were two primary issues of contention: whether Nelson's actions had been motivated by prejudice and whether Nelson's actions caused Rosenbaum's death.

In a departure from his position in the 1992 trial, Nelson admitted to having stabbed Rosenbaum and apologized to Rosenbaum's family for his actions.[24][25][26][27] However, he denied his actions had been motivated by prejudice, claiming he had joined the mob because he was intoxicated and "caught up in the excitement".[5][20] Prosecutors claimed that Nelson had admitted he had attacked Rosenbaum only after hearing someone shout "Let's get the Jew!".[20] Rosenbaum's family claimed videotapes showed that Nelson was not intoxicated and claimed the mob of which Nelson was a member had shouted "There's a Jew, let's get the Jew" [27]

On the issue of whether Nelson caused Rosenbaum's death, medical evidence was presented indicating that Rosenbaum had been stabbed four times, of which two of the wounds were fatal.[28]

On May 14, 2003, the jury found Nelson guilty of violating Rosenbaum's civil rights, but he was not found to have caused Rosenbaum's death.[28] According to Cornell law professor Sherry Colb, the jury's verdict was "logically incoherent." Rosenbaum's family had filed a malpractice suit against the hospital where he died. The jury was supposed to have—but did not—ignore this information in determining Nelson's guilt, reasoning that the hospital and Nelson could not both be guilty. Colb writes that "this line of reasoning can most generously be described as misguided and less generously as stupid." [29]

Nelson was subsequently sentenced to the maximum sentence of ten years' imprisonment.[15] He served the full sentence (including time served before his 2003 trial) and was released on June 2, 2004.[30]

In a May 2010 interview with the New York Post, Nelson indicated that he had stopped drinking; he said he considered stabbing Rosenbaum a "mistake" he made as "a kid".[31]

Political and social reaction[edit]

According to New York Magazine, Nelson's initial acquittal fueled anger at Mayor David Dinkins, with Dinkins becoming "a surrogate for Lemrick Nelson", in part because of Dinkins's support for the verdict, saying "I have no doubt that in this case the criminal-justice system has operated fairly and openly."[32] According to Edward Shapiro, professor of history at Seton Hall University, "it is possible that David Dinkins would have been re-elected mayor in 1993 had the jury not exonerated Lemrick Nelson on October 29, 1992." Shapiro has called the riot "the most serious anti-Semitic incident in American history".[33]

Events not directly related to Rosenbaum killing[edit]

After being acquitted of Rosenbaum's murder in 1992, Nelson moved to a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia to live with a half-sister.[34][35][36]

Aggravated assault and weapon charges (1994)[edit]

Nelson was charged with aggravated assault for slashing a teenage high school classmate, Erik Heard, in the shoulder in January 1994 because Heard had told school officials that Nelson had stolen money from another classmate. He was charged separately with carrying a concealed weapon (a scalpel) at the time of his March 5, 1994, arrest.[12][34][36][37][38]

He pleaded guilty to both charges in DeKalb County Superior Court in Decatur, Georgia in March 1995.[34][39] Nelson was convicted with regard to both crimes on the basis of his guilty plea.[40][41][42] He was sentenced to 90–120 days in a "boot camp" (he ended up serving 120 days), three years' probation, and banishment from the State of Georgia.[34][36][43][44]

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit also found that his razor attack: "resulted in Nelson's expulsion from school, during which Nelson physically resisted the police officers who were attempting to arrest him after Nelson refused to leave the school grounds."[36][45]

Disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and harassment charges (1995)[edit]

After spending approximately two years in Georgia, Nelson returned to the New York area in 1994.[46] He lived with his mother in New Jersey, and his father in Crown Heights.[46]

In the early hours of June 23, 1995, Nelson and five other men were gathered outside an apartment building on Schenectady Avenue in Crown Heights.[47] Police approached the men after receiving a complaint call and one man was summonsed for possession of marijuana. Nelson was subsequently arrested and charged with second-degree assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.[46]

On arraignment, police claimed that Nelson had pushed and punched an officer who had asked him for identification and attempted to search him, causing the officer to fall and sprain his wrist.[46][47] Nelson's attorney claimed that the police officers had harassed and assaulted Nelson by beating him on the head with a flashlight.[46][47][48][49]

A warrant was issued for his arrest, which was deemed a parole violation.[48]

Criminal trespass arrest (1996)[edit]

Nelson was charged with criminal trespass on February 8, 1996. Police claimed that, having left a court hearing 90 minutes previously, Nelson was arrested after refusing to leave the lobby of an apartment building in which he did not live and that he was carrying a box cutter at the time.[12][50]

Attack with icepick (2010)[edit]

On September 12, 2010, Nelson was stabbed in the head with an icepick in a possible road rage incident.[3] He was found outside his car at 168th Street and Riverside Drive in upper Manhattan after 2:00 a.m., and brought to Harlem Hospital Center in stable condition.[3][4][51]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "United States v. Nelson". United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. October 17, 1995. Retrieved July 28, 2010. 
  2. ^ Eric J. Sundquist (2005). Strangers in the land: Blacks, Jews, post-Holocaust America. Harvard University Press. p. 496. ISBN 9780674019423. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c Paddock, Barry; Lauinger, John; Kennedy, Helen (August 19, 1991). "Lemrick Nelson stabbed in the head with ice pick, 19 years after knifing student to death in riots". New York: Nydailynews.com. Retrieved September 14, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Man Convicted in 1991 Racial Unrest Is Stabbed". The New York Times. September 12, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Hate crimes: a reference handbook – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved August 9, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Jews, Blacks, heal riot-torn area", Reading Eagle, August 11, 2001. Retrieved July 28, 2010.
  7. ^ Mitchell, Alison (October 30, 1992). "Bitterness for One Family and Relief for the Other". NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  8. ^ "The Citizen". Gotham Gazette. January 9, 2002. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  9. ^ Peter Noel (2007). WWhy Blacks Fear 'America's Mayor': Reporting Police Brutality and Black Activist Politics Under Rudy Giuliani. iUniverse. p. 67. ISBN 0-595-47657-0. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  10. ^ McKinley, James C. (August 30, 1995). "Prosecutors Still Seek to Try '91 Crown Hts. Suspect as Adult". The New York Times. Retrieved July 28, 2010. 
  11. ^ Smith, Greg B. (July 20, 1995). "Lemrick Called Troubled Kid". New York Daily News. Retrieved July 28, 2010. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h "U.S. v. Nelson". U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of NY. March 21, 1996. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Lemrick Nelson, Again", by Lawrence A. Hoffman, The Jewish Week, August 25, 1994, accessed July 27, 2010]
  14. ^ The American Criminal Justice System ... – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved August 9, 2010. 
  15. ^ a b c d Crown Heights: Blacks, Jews, and the ... – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved August 9, 2010. 
  16. ^ a b Race and religion among the chosen ... – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved August 9, 2010. 
  17. ^ a b What would Martin say? – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved August 9, 2010. 
  18. ^ Wilson, Judy (2006). "Crown Heights riot—fact, fiction, and plenty of blame". New Jersey Jewish News. Retrieved October 20, 2007. 
  19. ^ Newman, Andy (May 17, 2003). "Juror Explains Mixed Verdict On Crown Hts.". New York City; Crown Heights (Nyc): The New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  20. ^ a b c d e Newman, Andy (May 15, 2003). "The Crown Heights Verdict – Overview – Mixed Verdict On Crown Hts. – Defense Happy". New York City; Crown Heights (Nyc): The New York Times. Retrieved July 27, 2010. 
  21. ^ a b c d "The Crown Heights Acquittal". New York City; Crown Heights (Nyc): The New York Times. October 31, 1992. Retrieved October 3, 2011. 
  22. ^ "'The New Anti-Semitism'". New York magazine. January 11, 1993. Retrieved October 2, 2011. 
  23. ^ a b Gerhard Falk, The American Criminal Justice System: How It Works, How It Doesn't, and How to Fix It, ABC-CLIO, 2010, p. 50. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
  24. ^ Gourevitch, Philip (January 1993). "The Crown Heights Riot & Its Aftermath". The Jewish Forward. Archived from the original on February 20, 2004. 
  25. ^ Newman, Andy (August 21, 2003). "Penalty in Crown Hts. Case Means a Little More Jail Time". The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2009. 
  26. ^ End of New York Crown Heights Riot Court Case Bittersweet for Parents who Lost Children. JET. September 8, 2003. p. 15. Retrieved July 27, 2010. 
  27. ^ a b "In Twist, Defendant Admits to Stabbing In Crown Hts. in '91," The New York Times, April 29, 2003.
  28. ^ a b "Lemrick Guilty – but he faces only 2 years in jail", by Kati Cornell Smith, New York Post, May 15, 2003. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
  29. ^ Sherry F. Colb, The Verdict in the Lemrick Nelson Trial: Jury Deliberations Expose a Troubling Reality, June 4, 2003, in FindLaw
  30. ^ John Marzulli and Dave Godiner (June 3, 2004). "Lemrick Nelson's Out of Jail". New York Daily News. Retrieved July 27, 2010. 
  31. ^ Goldstein, Joseph (May 16, 2010). "Crown Heights riot figure Lemrick Nelson lives quietly in Hillside, New Jersey". New York Post. Retrieved July 27, 2010. 
  32. ^ The Politics of grievance: Dinkins, the Blacks, and the Jews, New York Magazine, December 7, 1992, p. 19
  33. ^ Shapiro, Edward S. (2006). Crown heights: Blacks, Jews, and the 1991 Brooklyn riot. Waltham, Massachusetts: Brandeis University Press, University Press of New England. p. xi. ISBN 1-58465-561-5. Retrieved October 20, 2007. 
  34. ^ a b c d Fried, Joseph P. (February 7, 1995). "Guilty Plea By Suspect In Slashing". New York City; Dekalb County (Ga); Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  35. ^ Fried, Joseph P. (January 28, 1997). "Friend of Crown Heights Suspect Says He Confessed". New York City; Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  36. ^ a b c d "U.S. v. Nelson". US 2nd Circuit. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  37. ^ Smothers, Ronald (April 23, 1994). "Crown Hts. Case Follows Youth to Atlanta". Atlanta (Ga); Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  38. ^ "Indictment of Crown Hts. Figure Is Sought". Decatur (Ga); Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. May 2, 1994. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  39. ^ Jones, Charisse (February 11, 1997). "The Crown Heights Verdict – The Defendants – Contrasting Reactions as They Hear the Verdicts". New York City; Crown Heights (NYC): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  40. ^ Mckinley, James C. (August 30, 1995). "Prosecutors Still Seek to Try '91 Crown Hts. Suspect as Adult". Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  41. ^ Fried, Joseph P. (January 17, 1997). "A New Crown Hts. Trial Revisits Brooklyn Night of Murder in '91". New York City; Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  42. ^ John Leo, "Racial Nullification Strikes Courts", Sarasota Herald Tribune, October 14, 1995. Retrieved July 28, 2010.
  43. ^ "Civil Rights Trial: The Players". New York: Nydailynews.com. February 11, 1997. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  44. ^ Kennedy, Randy (August 15, 1996). "Man Held In Role In Crown Hts. Case". Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  45. ^ Fried, Joseph P. (September 10, 1994). "Crown Heights Prosecuters Portray Accused Man, 19, as Poor Candidate for Rehabilitation". Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  46. ^ a b c d e Pierre, Garry (June 24, 1995). "Youth Charged In Crown Heights Incident Is Arrested Again". New York City; Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  47. ^ a b c Raftery, Tom (June 24, 1995). "Lemrick Nabbed Crown Hts. Scuffle Crown Hts. Scuffle Lemrick Nabbed". New York: Nydailynews.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  48. ^ a b "Acquitted of Murder, but Arraigned Again". New York City; Georgia; Crown Heights (Nyc): NYTimes.com. August 5, 1995. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  49. ^ "METRO DIGEST – Summary". NYTimes.com. June 24, 1995. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  50. ^ Smith, Greg B. (February 9, 1996). "Crown Heights Suspect In New Brush With Law". New York: Nydailynews.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  51. ^ B'klyn race-riot killer stabbed in 'road rage'