Attorneys for Abel Cedeno, the bullied Bronx gay teen charged with manslaughter in a 2017 classroom fight that left Matthew McCree dead, called for a special prosecutor in the case after Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark “took a dive,” they said, by failing to pursue charges against Kevon Dennis, brother of the deceased, who allegedly threatened student witnesses at knifepoint immediately after the incident.
The DA is pursuing charges against Jonathan Espinal, Dennis’ alleged accomplice and another relative of the deceased.
The DA originally tried to charge Cedeno with second-degree murder, but the grand jury reduced the charge to manslaughter after it heard Cedeno’s testimony that he was defending himself.
At Cedeno’s January 15 appearance, Christopher R. Lynn and Robert J. Feldman, co-counsels for Cedeno, were instructed by Judge Steven Hornstein, who is new on the case, to prepare written briefs on their motion as well as their desire to call as witnesses the 25 students who saw the classroom incident (none of whom has been identified to the defense or interviewed by the DA), an expert on gangs who they say will testify to the participation of McCree in gangs and how Cedeno’s knowledge of that played into his intense fear, and the police officer who arrested Dennis.
Lynn and Feldman subpoenaed the city’s Department of Education for the names and addresses of the student witnesses, but no one from the department showed up to answer the subpoena in court. The failure of the DA to produce these witnesses is also part of their call for a special prosecutor.
Lynn said that DA Clark told the Stonewall Democrats that “both the Dennis and Cedeno matters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” But on October 30, 2018, Judge April Newbauer dismissed the charges of armed robbery against Dennis for lack of evidence even though the criminal complaint against him says that he acted in concert with Espinal.
Assistant District Attorney Nancy Borko regularly consults with Louna Dennis, McCree’s mother, and her attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, who is suing the city on her behalf for $25 million in the death of her son. At a press conference after the January 15 court date, Ms. Dennis was asked by this reporter how she felt about the dismissal of the charges against her son Kevon and Rubenstein would not let her answer, saying it “was not relevant” to the Cedeno case. She also would not say what her relationship to Espinal is, though he is believed to be her brother-in-law.
Dennis said she was “exhausted” from having to attend the numerous court appearances and Rubenstein complained about how slowly the case was moving, something that Lynn agreed with.
Cedeno has been out on bail since November 2017 and is working to complete his high school education. His mother, Luz Hernandez, who was also present in court, told Gay City News, “We are praying for it to end and supporting each other” through it.
Lynn objected to the DA handling the Cedeno and Dennis cases separately even though the Cedeno case gave rise to the Dennis matter “according to the sworn criminal complaint.”
Lynn wrote in an email, “16 month after the occurrence, the Bronx DA and the NYPD have not interviewed ANY of these kids [who witnessed the classroom incident].” He said that some of these witnesses “received a text message from McCree’s brother Kevon Dennis a few hours after the event to meet him (Dennis) at a specific location after school. The kids complied because they knew he was Matthew’s brother, they knew his reputation (on Facebook his moniker is Unruly Boss) and complied with the request.” Lynn added, “the students were robbed of their cell phones because of possible evidence of his brother Matthew’s stabbing” and that Dennis also sought Cedeno’s whereabouts.
Cedeno has been living at an undisclosed location since getting out on bail and requires an NYPD escort to and from the courthouse at each appearance — at one of which Kevon Dennis threatened him in the lobby.
Outside the courthouse on January 15, a female member of McCree’s family repeatedly shouted, “You’re a murderer!” at Cedeno as he was being escorted to a car.
Patrice O’Shaughnessy, director of communications for the Bronx DA, wrote in response to defense calls for a special prosecutor, “We are working vigorously to prosecute this case. We are in the pre-trial motion stage and will answer the defense motions through the court.” She also wrote, “We have no additional evidence to prove criminality against Dennis.”
Lynn wrote “the Bronx DA rigged the matter by submitting a half-baked indictment — one that was eventually thrown out an not re-presented [to the Grand Jury]… They took a dive knowing that they had to indict Kevon, but setting it up to disappear. There is no other explanation.”
The next court date for Cedeno is February 25 at 9:30 a.m. for more pre-trial motions. The actual trial has not yet begun.