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Plea is Guilty to Riot Charge

By Wendy Lin

One of the young men charged with riot in the second Howard Beach case pleaded guilty yesterday and the court record of another defendant’s secret guilty plea was unsealed, leaving only five defendants in the trial that opened this week.

[Defendant], 20, flanked by his attorney and his parents, pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens, Queens to first-degree riot and criminal facilitation.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Demakos promised to sentence him to 5 years’ probation with 200 hours of community service and youthful offender status, which means he will not have a criminal record. He could have been sentenced to as much as 4 years in prison.

“I feel very happy for the family,” said [Defendant’s] attorney, Augustus Agate. “They’ve gone through hell for a year and a half.”

His co-defendants were not as pleased. [Defendant], 20, who is also charged with riot, said, “I don’t think anyone should have plea-bargained at all. I don’t think anyone was guilty of riot. I don’t think I’m guilty of riot, and I don’t think [Defendant] is either.”

[Defendant] was accused of being part of a gang of young whites who chased three black men through the streets of Howard Beach, Queens, on Dec. 20, 1986. He drove a car carrying other defendants to the scene of the confrontation with the black men. One of the men, Michael Griffith, was struck and killed by a car on the Belt Parkway as he was fleeing his attackers.

Shortly after [Defendant’s] plea, the judge released the record of a clandestine meeting he held last week in which another defendant, [Defendant], 19, pleaded guilty. The record was unsealed at the order of a panel of Appellate Division justices who ruled that Demakos acted improperly in taking the plea in secret.

[Defendant] pleaded guilty to first-degree riot in a closed-door session Thursday, despite attempts by the media to open the proceeding to the public. He was given the same sentencing terms as [Defendant]. James Kohler, assistant state attorney general from the special prosecutor’s office, said that his office has no objection to the judge’s offer.

Attorneys for the remaining five defendants had differing views on how the pleas will affect the young men still on trial. Attorney Richard LaRosa, who represents 18-year-old [Defendant], said the pleas would not hurt his client. “My client is not guilty. If those two defendants think they’re guilty, let them plead guilty. I don’t want them to sit at the defense table with us.”

Todd Greenberg, who represents 19-year-old [Defendant], said that he could not gauge the effect of the guilty pleas until he finds whether the two defendants will testify in the trial and what they will say. Demakos said that the pleas are not conditioned on whether the defendants testify.

State Special Prosecutor Charles J. Hynes said yesterday that he is preparing a proposal for the community service portion of the sentence. He said that the work should “in some way raise his sensitivity that what he did was wrong.”