By MONTE WILLIAMS
Published: February 06, 1996
A former Mount Vernon High school student convicted of stabbing a classmate to death inside the school in 1994 was sentenced today to five years of probation. The Westchester County District Attorney immediately protested the sentence.
"When a jury convicts someone of manslaughter, of killing a 17-year-old student in high school, he deserves more than probation," District Attorney Jeanine Pirro said. "What is the message we're sending to young people? 'You can go into our schools with a weapon, kill and walk.' "
The defendant, Hopeton Minott, was granted youthful offender status by Judge Peter M. Leavitt of Westchester County Court, which allowed for the sentence and effectively sealed Mr. Minott's criminal record.
Mr. Minott, who was 17 at the time of the slaying, could have received a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 to 6 years in state prison or a maximum of 8 to 25 years had he been sentenced as an adult.
Mr. Minott's lawyer, Todd Greenberg, said the sentence imposed today was appropriate because of what he called "extremely mitigating circumstances.
Mr. Greenberg has maintained that his client acted in self-defense. During the trial, and in an interview today, he said the victim -- Shebuel Jackson, a star center fielder on the school baseball team -- was one of five or six youths who accosted Mr. Minott in the hallway between classes.
In that attack, Mr. Minott was stabbed above the eye before he wrestled a knife from one of his attackers and chased Mr. Jackson, stabbing him three times in the neck, Mr. Greenberg said.
"The jury acquitted him of murder," Mr. Greenberg said. "There was a note from the jury about the sentencing. The jury asked the court to be as lenient as possible, although that's not controlling on the judge."
He added: "I think the judge acted extremely fairly given the circumstances he was presented with. The circumstances speak for themselves."
In criticizing the judge's decision, Ms. Pirro pointed out that Mr. Minott, while free on bail and awaiting sentencing for the manslaughter conviction, was indicted on charges of first-degree robbery. The authorities said Mr. Minott and a 15-year-old took several hundred dollars at gunpoint from a restaurant on Stuyvesant Avenue in Brooklyn, where Mr. Minott moved after the slaying. Mr. Minott pleaded not guilty to the robbery charge in December.
Ms. Pirro, a former county judge, proposed legislation in 1994 that would erase youthful offender adjudication upon a second conviction.
"Under the legislation I've proposed, if Minott is convicted of robbery, the manslaughter conviction would be put back on the books," said Ms. Pirro, who called the sentencing emblematic of problems with the criminal justice system. "Why should someone who has chosen a life of crime continue to get youthful offender adjudication?"
The 1994 incident was the first killing in a Westchester high school. With 2,600 students, Mount Vernon High is the county's largest high school. It has installed metal detectors since the slaying.