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Bensonhurst Murder Trial: 1990

Racial Jealousy Leads To Murder, Police Quickly Arrest Suspects, Racial Tensions Boil Over, Controversial And Complicated Verdicts

Defendants: Joseph Fama, Keith Mondello
Crimes Charged: Riot, unlawful imprisonment, discrimination, murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Mondello: Stephen Murphy; Fama: David DePetris
Chief Prosecutor: Paul Burns
Judge: Thaddeus Owens
Place: Brooklyn, Kings County, New York
Date of Trial: May-June 11, 1990
Verdicts: Fama: guilty of murder in the second degree (manslaughter), guilty of riot; Mondello: not guilty of manslaughter; guilty of riot, menacing, and unlawful imprisonment
Sentence: Fama: 32 and one half years to life imprisonment; Mondello: 4 terms of 1 year 4 months to 4 years to run consecutively for riot in the first degree, with consecutive 90-day sentences for each of 3 counts of unlawful imprisonment. Sentence was later modified on appeal (March 1, 1993) to allow the sentences for unlawful imprisonment to run concurrently with the other sentences. Total sentence: 5 and one-third to 16 years. Note: John Vento found guilty of lesser charges and sentenced to 4 years; other defendants either acquitted or sentenced to community service were Joseph Serrano, Charles Stressler, James Patino, and Steven Curreri.

SIGNIFICANCE: This case brought national attention as a racially motivated "hate crime." The Reverend Al Sharpton led marches in protest against the killing and the justice system; and the case may have contributed to David Dinkins' victory in the New York City mayoral election over Edward Koch.

Yusuf Hawkins, 16 years old, was murdered on August 23, 1989, when he and several other black friends walked down the street in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn near the corner of 68th Street and 20th Avenue. The group was menaced by a largely white gang with baseball bats. At least one in the attacking gang, Russell Gibbons, was black. Hawkins died of two bullet wounds to the chest.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994