HRC Blog

Mistrial Declared and Hate Crimes Charges Dismissed in Sucuzhanay Trials

A mistrial was declared yesterday in the case of a man accused of beating a man to death in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood after mistaking the victim and his brother, both Ecuadorian immigrants, for a gay couple. Justice Patricia M. Di Mango of the New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn announced the mistrial after the jury concluded it was at an impasse. Defendant Keith Phoenix faced multiple counts including second-degree murder and manslaughter, with some charged as hate crimes. The Brooklyn district attorney has said that Phoenix and Hakim Scott viciously attacked brothers José and Romel Sucuzhanay, who were huddled close together to stay warm, after mistaking them for a gay couple as they were walking home early on December 7, 2008. On May 6, Hakim Scott was convicted by a separate jury of first-degree manslaughter and first-degree attempted assault, but not as hate crimes. Dismissal of the hate crimes charges upset local activists and sparked a pointed response by openly lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [doc]. Targeted because of who he was and who his attackers perceived him to be, José Sucuzhanay’s death is a tragic reminder that the fight against hate crimes continues. This hate crime illustrates how hate crimes laws protect all Americans, not just LGBT Americans. Although justice has been delayed in the Keith Pheonix case, HRC remains hopeful that he will ultimately be held accountable for the horrific hate crimes he committed. Judge Di Mango has set June 15 as the new trial date for Phoenix.

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