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Howard Beach Victim Admits To Drug Use

By Wendy Lin

Howard Beach attack victim Cedric Sandiford returned to the witness stand yesterday and admitted he had mainlined heroin and cocaine, and that he was too ashamed to admit it under oath last week.

“I lied,” Sandiford told jurors in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens, Queens. “I lied because I was ashamed. I lied to protect my family and my kids.”

The 38-year-old Sandiford is living in a Westchester County hospital where he is undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol dependency. In court last Thursday, after he identified [Defendant] as one of his alleged attackers, defense attorneys attempted to discredit Sandiford by questioning him on his drug problems. In testimony, he admitted he had a drug problem, but insisted he had never used a needle.

His testimony yesterday brought tears to the eyes of his supporters. Jean Griffith, his fiancee, wept bitterly in the courtroom as she clutched her teenage daughter, Odette. Jean Griffith is the mother of attack victim Michael Griffith, who was struck and killed by a car as he was fleeing a gang of white teenagers.

Five white men are on trial on charges stemming from the Dec. 20, 1986, racial attack in which three black men were chased through the streets of Howard Beach. The five are charged first-degree riot, a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. One defendant, [Defendant], also is charged with the attempted murder of Sandiford. The cases are being tried simultaneously, although there is a separate jury deciding the fate of [Defendant].

Last year, three Howard Beach youths were found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Griffith.

Sandiford said he decided to admit to using drugs intravenously after agonizing over the issue this past weekend.

“I wouldn’t discuss my medical record with anybody,” he said emphatically. “It was personal, it was private, and it was a violation of my rights. I was upset about it. I didn’t want to talk about it . . . I lay in my room and I thought about it and I called my kids and explained the situation.”

Then, he said, “I decided to tell the truth about it and release myself from that burden. I made that choice.”

Defense attorneys, however, tried to show that Sandiford made the admission only after it became apparent that medical records would show his intravenous drug use. Bert Koehler, who represents [Defendant], challenged Sandiford by asking, “Isn’t it true that you knew that we know the truth and you decided to make yourself more credible in the eyes of the jury?”

Sandiford responded evenly, “I lied because I was ashamed, sir.”

Defense attorney Todd Greenberg, who represents [Defendant], asked, “How many other things did you lie about?”

Sandiford replied, “I told the truth about everything that happened.” He added, “My drug record had nothing to do with what happened on December 19 and December 20, 1986 . . . My memory about the event could never leave my memory.”