Trial Opens in Case of Slaying at High School


The Reporter Dispatch

Gannett Suburban Newspaper

Friday, September 22, 1995

By Will David

A Mount Vernon High School student who was fatally stabbed in October 1994 in the school's halls was responsible for his own death because he was a member of a "posse" that attacked the student who killed him, a defense attorney told a jury yesterday.

The attorney, Todd Greenberg, told jurors that his client, [Defendant] Jr.,, 18, was defending himself against [Deceased], 17, and possibly nine other students when the death occurred after first period.

Greenberg said the group jumped [Defendant], punched and kicked him, and he fell against a wall. One of the students cut [Defendant] over the eyebrow with a knife, and blood gushed all over his face, the lawyer from Queens said.

"[Defendant's] actions - under the circumstances - were reasonable and justified," Greenberg said.

Greenberg made his comments yesterday in the Westchester County courthouse in White Plains during opening statements in [Defendant's] murder trial.

[Defendant] is charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree manslaughter. The case is being heard before county Judge Peter M. Leavitt.

The October 24, 1994, killing of [Deceased] at Mount Vernon High School, one of the state's largest schools, was the first homicide in a Westchester or Putnam county high school.

In his opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Doug Fitzmorris admitted that [Deceased] and others ambushed [Defendant] in the hall. One of the attackers had a knife and stabbed the defendant, Fitzmorris said. But when [Defendant], who was alone, wrestled the knife away, they all ran, the prosecutor told the jury.

Fitzmorris said [Defendant] chased [Deceased] and stabbed him three times from behind. One wound severed the victim's aorta, he said.

"He was no longer the victim, but the attacker," Fitzmorris said.

[Deceased] stumbled down the stairwell and collapsed on the first floor. He bled to death on the way to Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla in a medical helicopter.

Fitzmorris described the killing as tragic.

"[Deceased's] death was needless. [Deceased's] death was for no good reason. [Deceased] did not have to die," Fitzmorris said.

Fitzmorris said an Oct. 18 fight between the defendant and another student, [student], 17, led up to the fatal brawl. [Student] and [Defendant], a newcomer to the school, fought after an argument about the way each looked at the other. They were both suspended from school for two weeks and returned Oct. 24.

[Student], [Deceased] and others planned to attack [Defendant] on the day the pair returned from suspension. They did it after first period.

The halls were crowded. [Student] and his friends punched and kicked [Defendant], Fitzmorris said. One stabbed him. It began and ended in a few minutes, the prosecutor said. Fitzmorris said it is not clear who had the knife.

"[Defendant's] choice is a significant choice once he has the knife," Fitzmorris said. "He runs down [Deceased] from behind and stabs him three times."

Greenberg said the students who attacked [Defendant] should be on trial.

Later, outside the courtroom Greenberg said those students would not testify in the case.

Greenberg told the jury that after the fight with [student], whose mother is an employee at the high school, [Defendant] returned to the school with his father, [Defendant's father], to mediate the dispute with school officials. Greenberg said the school postponed the mediation session and allowed both boys into school.

Less than two hours later, the ambush that Darden, [Deceased] and others had planned on the telephone Oct. 22 swung into action , Greenberg said. That led to [Deceased's] death, he said.