Almost 20 months after a fight in a Bronx high school led bullied gay teen Abel Cedeno to use a knife in what he said was self-defense, killing one classmate and slashing another, his trial for manslaughter is set to begin in Bronx Criminal Court on June 18.
Defense pleas for a special prosecutor in the case were rejected by Judge Robert Torres, though his written decision was not available at press time. Christopher R. Lynn and Robert J. Feldman, attorneys for Cedeno, argued that Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark had compromised the case by not pursuing charges of witness tampering against Kevon Dennis — the brother of the deceased, Matthew McCree — for his alleged coercive contacts with other students later in the day of the fatal incident. Dennis also tried to jump Cedeno inside the court building early in the proceedings, but that case was not pursued, either.
Feldman called Clark “corrupt, conflicted, and compromised” and said, “She threw the Dennis cases in the garbage.”
Lynn said, “The DA did not charge properly on the defense of justification — self-defense.”
Judge Steven Hornstein, who has been hearing pretrial motions, did give the defense one thing they have been pleading for in court on April 18 — the opportunity to call the three teacher witnesses to the incident. The DA and the Department of Education have opposed any access to the 25 student witnesses, most all of whom are now adults. Lynn said video of the incident shows one teacher, Nicholas Kennedy, being “pushed up against the wall by Matthew as Matthew was rampaging in the classroom.”
Louna Dennis, McCree’s mother, attends every court session with her attorney, Sanford Rubenstein. They are suing Cedeno and the city for $25 million, arguing that the city was negligent in failing to install metal detectors and adequately enforce municipal and state anti-bullying laws. Despite the many delays in the criminal trial, Rubenstein told Gay City News, “We have full confidence in the prosecution being conducted by the DA’s office and look forward to trial.”
Cedeno has a history of being bullied since the sixth grade and said that he feared McCree and Ariane Laboy, the student who was slashed, because they were gang members. The video shows McCree and Laboy pummeling Cedeno and him lashing out with his knife.
Cedeno, free on bail, was surrounded by family members — and a police escort — leaving the courthouse. His mother, grandmother, and sisters were by his side. His grandmother told Gay City News, “What is going to be is up to the Lord. I put it in his hands.”
Cedeno’s mother, Luz Hernandez, said, “We pray,” but she worried about her son’s picture being put on Facebook by allies of the victims saying, “We’re going to get you.” She wants an order of protection for her son but the court has refused to grant one.
As for the trial itself, Lynn said, “They put on their case and we put on ours case, and then they have to disprove our case” of justification.