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Guilty Verdict in Stabbing Retrial

Jury finds Lemrick Nelson Jr. violated the civil rights but did not cause death of Hasidic scholar during 1991 Brooklyn riots.

May 15, 2003|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A federal court jury found Lemrick Nelson Jr. guilty Wednesday of violating the civil rights of a Hasidic scholar during the racial turmoil that swept through the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights in 1991.

But jurors said that Nelson, who admitted during the trial that he stabbed Yankel Rosenbaum, did not directly cause his death.

It was the third time the 27-year-old Nelson has been tried in the case -- he was 16 at the time of the attack -- and the decision means he will not serve a life sentence.

The defendant in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn smiled at his family after the verdict was announced.

Nelson cannot be sentenced to more than 10 years for the crime. He already has served more than eight years of the sentence he received after a jury found him guilty in a previous trial on charges of federal civil rights violations.

In January 2002, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, citing irregularities in the jury selection process, ordered another trial.

"We're pleased he's not looking at the maximum," said Richard M. Jasper, one of the defendant's lawyers, when the court session was finished.

During the trial, Jasper told the jury that Rosenbaum's wounds initially were not lethal and that he died of inadequate medical care.

Rosenbaum's family had alleged in a civil lawsuit that negligence at the hospital contributed to the death.

Norman Rosenbaum, whose brother was slain, said the verdict Wednesday after six days of deliberations "smacks of a compromise."

"The second part of the decision that was reached by the jury ... unfortunately flies in the face of the facts," he said. "He violated my brother's rights, and stabbed him because he was a Jew."

Battles between blacks and Hasidic Jews were so serious over a four-day period in 1991 that a New York State investigating panel appointed by then-Gov. Mario M. Cuomo called the incident "the worst outbreak of racial violence in 20 years."

During his first trial in the case, held in 1992 in state court in Brooklyn, Nelson was acquitted of murder charges. His lawyers argued that Nelson did not stab Rosenbaum, a 29-year-old rabbinical scholar who was visiting from Australia.

But at the beginning of his latest trial, Nelson, through his lawyer, said he did stab Rosenbaum, but that prejudice was not the reason.

The lawyers said that Nelson was intoxicated after drinking beer and became carried away by the emotion of the crowds. The explanation was the core of the defense's contention that Nelson did not violate Rosenbaum's civil rights.

Jasper told the jury the stabbing happened because of a "terrible combination of alcohol, youth and tragedy."

Government lawyers countered that Nelson was part of a crowd that wanted ''revenge'' and was looking for a "scapegoat ... a Jew to even the score."

During deliberations, the jury sent Judge Frederic Block notes declaring they were at an impasse. At one point, defense lawyers asked for a mistrial. But the judge told the jury to keep deliberating.

The violence in Crown Heights started after a station wagon in a caravan escorting Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the world leader of Lubavitch Judaism, struck and killed 7-year-old Gavin Cato.

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