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Probation in School Slaying

Mount Vernon Argus

Gannett Suburban Newspapers

Tuesday, February 6, 1996

By Bruce Golding

A young man who fatally stabbed a fellow student inside Mount Vernon High School was spared any prison time yesterday by a merciful judge who said it was clear the killing was provoked.

But the judge’s leniency prompted anguish from the victim’s mother and outrage from Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, whose office had sought a “substantial” prison term.

[Defendant] was sentenced by Westchester County Judge Peter M. Leavitt to five years’ probation and also granted youthful offender status – which seals his criminal record – for the first-ever homicide inside a Westchester or Putnam county school.

But [Defendant] – who made a brief statement apologizing for the slaying – remained in custody after his sentencing because of his arrest in the Dec. 6 robbery of a Brooklyn restaurant.

That crime was committed while [Defendant] was free on bond awaiting sentencing in the Jackson slaying, and his arrest prompted the judge to revoke the bond on Dec. 29.

The judge also said he would consider a conviction in the robbery case a violation of [Defendant’s] probation and would resentence him if he is convicted.

Before imposing yesterday’s sentence, Leavitt said the Oct. 24, 1994, slaying of 17-year-old [deceased] was motivated “solely and entirely” by a gang attack on [Defendant] in which the victim took part.

“The defendant found himself inextricably enmeshed in a volatile set of circumstances which escalated into a violent confrontation with tragic consequences,” Leavitt said.

The judge also cited a “most unusual” letter – which he read aloud – in which 10 of the jurors who last year convicted [Defendant] of first-degree manslaughter urged consideration of the mitigating factors in his case.

Pirro, who was in Leavitt’s White Plains courtroom for the sentencing, was visibly angered afterward.

“This is what is wrong with our criminal justice system,” she said. “People are supposed to be accountable for the crimes that they commit.”

Under state law, [Defendant] – who was 17 at the time of the killing – had faced a maximum 8 1/3 to 25 years behind bars.

According to undisputed trial testimony, [Defendant] was walking in a crowded school corridor when he was jumped by several students, one of whom slashed his face with a knife.

After grabbing the knife, [Defendant] briefly chased the fleeing gang members and stabbed [Deceased] three times from behind. The third thrust punctured the youth’s breastbone, severing his aorta, and he bled to death in a medical helicopter.

In court yesterday, [name omitted] tearfully urged a maximum sentence for her son’s killer, saying, “My children mean the most to me.”

“He has taken that from me as though he has cut off my right arm,” she said. “I have a younger baby at home who will never, never know her brother.”

[Name omitted) burst into tears after Leavitt announced [Defendant’s] sentence. She was consoled in the hallway by several relatives and supporters, all of whom declined comment.

[Defendant] remained at the county jail in Valhalla last night, but defense lawyer Todd Greenberg of Queens said he hoped to have his client freed on bail today.