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Race Case Victim Erupts on Stand

After undergoing a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he was fit to testify, Howard Beach attack victim Timothy Grimes exploded on the witness stand yesterday at the first hint of hostile questioning from one of five defense attorneys in the trial.

The tense and volatile Grimes held his temper through about 20 minutes of cross-examination by defense attorney Todd Greenberg in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens, Queens. But when Greenberg suggested that Grimes had been harassing two women in a red sports car in Howard Beach that night, Grimes lost control. He stood up suddenly, knocked a court microphone away from his face, spat and, in front of a packed courtroom and stunned jurors, said, “Get the – – – out of here.”

Justice Thomas Demakos immediately called for a recess as court officers and investigators from the state special prosecutor’s office rushed to the witness stand to restrain Grimes. Meanwhile, his mother, Martha Grimes, ran to a pay phone where she unsuccessfully tried to reach attorney C. Vernon Mason in an attempt to get Grimes off the stand. Mason had represented her son last year in early stages of the first Howard Beach trial.

During the recess, attorneys from the state special prosecutor’s office also tried to have Grimes removed from the stand on the grounds that he was “mentally incapable of continuing,” said prosecutor James Kohler. Demakos denied the motion.

Grimes was arrested Monday in Coney Island, Brooklyn, on a fugitive warrant from Virginia, where he is alleged to have shot his brother in the face. Prosecutors said they were reluctant to call him as a witness because of his unpredictable nature and because of his courtroom outbursts in the first trial. However, prosecutors knew that the defense attorneys would likely call Grimes if they did not.

At the request of the prosecution, Grimes underwent a court-ordered psychiatric examination shortly before he took the stand. He spent 45 minutes with Dr. Richard Weidenbacher.

Weidenbacher was retained by the Queens Legal Aid Society, which is representing Grimes at the trial. “Grimes said he wanted to testify and the doctor said it would be all right,” Kohler said.

Prosecutors became concerned about Grimes’ mental condition after speaking with a psychiatrist Grimes had been seeing before he left the city last year for Virginia, said Pamela Hayes, a prosecutor with the state special prosecutor’s office. That psychiatrist said Grimes was suffering from “acute psychosis . . . that would not be healed spontaneously,” Hayes said.

Grimes’ brother, Charles, insisted yesterday during an interview that testifying would hurt his brother. Charles Grimes said he believed the death of Michael Griffith in Howard Beach is behind his brother’s emotional problems. Griffith was struck and killed by a car on the Belt Parkway as he was fleeing a group of white teenagers chasing him and shouting racial epithets. All of the victims of the attack were black.

Three of four white youths who stood trial last fall in the case were convicted of manslaughter and assault.

On direct questioning from prosecutor Edward Boyar, Grimes told the jury that about six white youths ran at him and his two companions as they left the New Park Pizzeria on Dec. 20, 1986.