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Youth Gets 10 to 30 Years in Death of Black in Queens

January 24, 1988|Associated Press

NEW YORK — A white teen-ager who chased one black man to his death and beat another with a baseball bat after they ventured into predominantly white Howard Beach received the maximum possible sentences Friday totaling 10 to 30 years in prison.

The assault on three black men in the Queens neighborhood in 1986 ignited racial tensions in the city.

Jon Lester, 18, was the first of three young white men convicted in the case to be sentenced.

Justice Thomas Demakos said Lester "shows no remorse, no suggestion of guilt," but instead showed a "pretty close to craven indifference to life."

Lester listened to the sentencing impassively but turned toward his many supporters when he was escorted out.

"I'll be acquitted on appeal. I just wanted to say that," Lester said. Several rows of spectators applauded heartily.

"You're a murderer," a man shouted to the judge. "That goes for you, too, Hynes," he added, referring to special prosecutor Charles J. Hynes, who had asked for the maximum sentences.

Lester's mother, Jean, burst into tears.

The three youths convicted were among a dozen who allegedly confronted three black men outside a pizza parlor on Dec. 20, 1986, and began taunting them with cries of, "Niggers, get out of the neighborhood."

Michael Griffith, 23, was hit by a car and killed after being chased onto a highway. Another black man, Cedric Sandiford, 37, was attacked with a baseball bat.

Lester's attorney, Bryan Levinson, said his client should not have been sentenced so harshly because "this was a reckless act, not an intentional act."

"I feel it will come back to haunt him," Levinson said of Demakos, alleging there was "tremendous pressure" from Mayor Edward I. Koch and Gov. Mario Cuomo for a stiff sentence.

Demakos said the three black men were attacked "just because they are black."

"Make no mistake. . . . There are no ifs, ands or buts about it: This was racial violence," Demakos said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist, said the stiff sentencing vindicated those who pressed for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the case.

"I think that it is an affirmation that racism and racist violence will not have a place in our society," Sharpton said.

'A Very Long Time'

Said Koch: "I happen to believe that for every crime you commit, you should serve the penalty for that. . . . In this particular case, he's going to serve a very long time, and I think it's helpful."

Demakos ordered sentences of five to 15 years on both the manslaughter and the assault convictions and specified that they be served one after the other, rather than concurrently, because they involved two separate criminal acts. That means Lester will serve at least 10 years in prison.

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