Murder of Michael Griffith
The dead man was 23-year-old Michael Griffith (March 2, 1963 – December 20, 1986), who was from Trinidad and had immigrated to the United States in 1973, and lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He was killed after being hit by a car as he was chased onto a highway by a mob of white youths who had beaten him and his friends. Griffith's death was the second of three infamous racially motivated killings of black men by white mobs in New York City in the 1980s. The other victims were Willie Turks in 1982 and Yusuf Hawkins in 1989.
Late on the night of Friday, December 19, 1986, four black men, Michael Griffith, 23; Cedric Sandiford, 36; Curtis Sylvester and Timothy Grimes, both 20, were riding in a car when it broke down in a deserted stretch of Cross Bay Boulevard near the Broad Channel neighborhood of Queens. Three of the men walked about three miles north to seek help in Howard Beach, a mostly white community, while Sylvester remained behind to watch the car. They argued with some white teens who were on their way to a party, then left.
By 12:30 a.m. on the 20th, the men reached the New Park Pizzeria, near the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and 157th Avenue. After a quick meal the men left the pizzeria at 12:40 a.m. and were confronted by a group of white men, including the group they had earlier confronted. Racial slurs were exchanged and a fight ensued. Sandiford and Griffith were seriously beaten; Grimes escaped unharmed. While trying to evade his attackers, Griffith ran in front of a moving car driven by the son of a police officer, and was killed. His body was found on the Belt Parkway at 1:03 a.m.
Griffith's death provoked strong outrage and immediate condemnation by then-Mayor of New York City Ed Koch, who referred to the case as the "No. 1 case in the city". Two days after the event, on December 22, three local teenagers, Jon Lester, Scott Kern, and Jason Ladone, students at John Adams High School, were arrested, and charged with second-degree murder. The driver of the car that struck Griffith, 24-year-old Dominick Blum, was not charged with any crime; a May 1987 grand jury did not return criminal charges against him.
The Griffith family, as well as Cedric Sandiford, retained the services of Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason (who was later disbarred), two attorneys who would become involved in the Tawana Brawley affair the following year. Maddox raised the ire of the NYPD and Commissioner Benjamin Ward by accusing them of trying to cover up facts in the case and aid the defendants.
After witnesses repeatedly refused to cooperate with Queens D.A. John J. Santucci, Governor of New York Mario Cuomo appointed Charles Hynes special prosecutor to handle the Griffith case on January 13, 1987. The move came after heavy pressure from black leaders on Cuomo to get Santucci, who was seen as too partial to the defendants to prosecute the case effectively, off the case.
Twelve defendants were indicted by a grand jury on February 9, 1987, including the original three charged in the case. Their original indictments had been dismissed after the witnesses refused to cooperate in the case.
After a lengthy trial and 12 days of jury deliberations, the three main defendants were convicted on December 21, 1987 of manslaughter, a little over a year after the death of Griffith. Kern, Lester and Ladone were convicted of second-degree manslaughter, and Michael Pirone, 18, was acquitted. Ultimately nine people would be convicted on a variety of charges related to Griffith's death.
On January 22, 1988, Jon Lester was sentenced to ten to thirty years' imprisonment. On February 5, Scott Kern was sentenced to six to eighteen years' imprisonment, and on February 11, 1988, Jason Ladone received a sentence of five to fifteen years' imprisonment.
In December 1999, the block where Griffith had lived was given the additional name "Michael Griffith Street."
Jason Ladone, then 29, was released from prison in April, 2000 after serving 10 years, and later became a city employee. He was arrested again in June 2006, on drug charges. In May 2001, Jon Lester was released and deported to his native England where he studied electrical engineering and started his own business. He died on August 14, 2017 at age 48 of what some suspect was a suicide. He left behind a wife and three children. Scott Kern was released from prison, last of the three main perpetrators, in 2002.
In 2005 the Griffith case was brought back to the public's attention after another racial attack in Howard Beach. A black man, Glenn Moore, was beaten severely with a metal baseball bat by Nicholas Minucci, who was convicted of hate crimes in 2006. The case was revisited yet again by the media, after the death of Michael Sandy, 29, who was beaten and hit by a car after being chased onto the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, New York, in October 2006.
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- Barron, James. "Ward Renews Attack on Lawyer in Beating Case" The New York Times 9 January 1987, p.B5.
- Smothers, Ronald "Hynes Is Selected To Be Prosecutor In Queens Attack." The New York Times 14 January 1987, p. A1.
- Press Release Archives #453-99- MAYOR GIULIANI SIGNS BILL THAT NAMES STREET AFTER MICHAEL GRIFFITH
- Shifrel, Scott (2006-10-17). "Howard Beach Slay Perp Busted Again". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2017-04-19.
- Kilgannon, Corey (2006-06-10). "Batsman Convicted of Howard Beach Hate Crimes". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-19.