El Sayyid Nosair Trial: 1991
Positive Identification Introduced
Corroboration came from Acosta, who, without being asked, stood up from the witness chair, pointed at the defendant, and shouted, "This man shot me!" Kunstler's suggestion that Nosair Chad actually had been fleeing from armed pursuers drew a scoffing response. "My focus was on him, he had the gun."
Another spectator, Ari Gottesman, told of standing between Kahane and "a dark-skinned, dark-haired man," who fired two shots at point-blank range. Asked whether he saw the gunman in court, Gottesman picked out Nosair.
When Dr. Steven Stowe, who had attended Kahane immediately after he was shot, took the stand, Kunstler seized the chance to expand on his conspiracy theory. "Didn't you do everything in your power that night to see that Meir Kahane never reached Bellevue (Hospital)?"
"No, sir," the doctor replied. Later, though, he did concede that he and paramedics had argued over what treatment to give.
Kunstler brushed aside the testimony of a forensic expert, Detective Robert Cotter, positively identifying the Magnum found next to Nosair as the murder weapon. Kunstler claimed it had been "planted" by the real killers of Kahane.
In all, the prosecution presented 51 witnesses. By contrast Kunstler called just six, none of whom supported his vague contention that Kahane had been shot by his own followers. Nosair, exercising his right to silence, heard Kunstler depict him as a tragic victim of circumstances.
Kunstler's eloquence found a ready audience. On December 21, 1991, the jury acquitted Nosair of murder or attempted murder and convicted him only on assault and weapons charges.
Sentencing Nosair to a maximum sentence of 7-22 years, Judge Schlesinger denounced the jury's verdict as "against the overwhelming weight of evidence … devoid of common sense and logic." Bemoaning his inability to impose a stiffer sentence, Judge Schlesinger said: "I believe the defendant conducted a rape of this country, of our Constitution and of our laws."
The extraordinary outcome of this case provided compelling proof that the human content in a trial can never be ignored or taken for granted.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Friedman, Robert I. The False Prophet. New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1990.
Hewitt, Bill. "A Career Of Preaching Hatred." People (November 19, 1990): 48ff.
Kotler, Ya'ir. Heil Kahane. New York: Adama Books, 1986.
Masland, Tom. "The High Price Of Hatred." Newsweek (November 19, 1990): 48ff.
Rosenbaum, Ron. "The Most Hated Man In America." Vanity Fair (March 1992): 68ff.