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Howard Beach Riot Verdicts Voided Appeals Court Overturns Convictions of Three Men

By Wendy Lin

The convictions of three men found guilty of second-degree riot in the Howard Beach racial incident have been overturned by an appeals court, according to a decision published yesterday.

[Defendant], [Defendant], and [Defendant] were found guilty by a Queens jury last year of being part of the gang of white youths that chased three black men through the streets of Howard Beach on Dec. 20, 1986. The chase eventually led to the death of one of the men, Michael Griffith, who was struck by a car on the Belt Parkway.

The ruling gives the state special prosecutor’s office 45 days to present the case again to a grand jury. Yesterday, Matthew Greenberg, a prosecutor with the special prosecutor’s office, said his office is considering appealing the decision. He would not comment further.

On Dec. 11, according to the decision published in the New York Law Journal, the appellate division of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn overturned the verdicts on several grounds, including that State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Demakos failed to tell the jury that it could consider a charge of disorderly conduct if it did not find the defendants guilty of first or second-degree riot.

“We’re feeling very happy and fully vindicated,” said Todd Greenberg, attorney for the 20-year-old [Defendant]. “But we’re also anxious to see the next step because the court leaves open the possibility of further indictment.”

Bert Koehler, attorney for [Defendant], 19, said all three men are working part-time and attending college locally. They were each sentenced to four months of weekends in jail, three years’ probation and 200 hours of community service, but the sentences were delayed pending the appeal.

Meanwhile, Howard Beach defendant [Defendant] was released from the Brooklyn House of Detention yesterday after serving four months of a six-month term for his part in the racial attack case. [Defendant], 20, was the prosecution’s main witness against his former friends in Howard Beach. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in the case. His attorney, Richard Mischel, said [Defendant] “just wants to resume a quiet life.”

[Defendant], who became an outcast in Howard Beach after agreeing to help the prosecution, has moved out of New York City, Mischel said.

(The following appeared in NS edition:
The appeal of three defendants who were found guilty of manslaughter is scheduled to be heard by the state Court of Appeals in Albany on Feb. 7. Two of them – [Defendant] and [Defendant] – were sentenced to serve 6 to 18 years and 5 to 15 years in jail, respectively, for their part in Griffin’s death. They are free on bail pending the appeal. The third, [Defendant], has a prior criminal record and is serving a sentence of 10 to 30 years in a state prison.)