Mayer Herskovic being escorted from a courtroom in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn after being found guilty on September 23. | JB NICHOLAS
A Brooklyn judge swiftly convicted Mayer Herskovic of second-degree assault, first-degree unlawful imprisonment, and menacing in a 2013 attack in Williamsburg that left a gay black man blind in one eye.
“Today’s verdict is a testament to our determination to fully prosecute this case based on the evidence, which clearly connected this defendant to the crime,” Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney, said in a September 23 statement. “I hope that this outcome will bring a measure of comfort to Mr. Patterson and his family.”
Herskovic was part of a group of roughly 20 men, some of whom belonged to a neighborhood patrol organized by the Satmar community, involved in the attack on Patterson. The Satmar are part of the Hasidic sect of Orthodox Judaism. The men first pursued Taj Patterson, now 25, along Flushing Avenue in cars and on foot. Once caught, Patterson was punched, kicked, knocked to the ground, and had a thumb jammed in his eye.
No witness in the trial identified Herskovic as the man who led the attack, but his DNA was found on Patterson’s sneaker, which police recovered from the roof of a low building next to where the young man was assaulted. Patterson testified that the man who punched him in the face, jabbed a thumb in his eye, and kicked him in the face as he lay on the ground was the same man who pulled off his sneaker and tossed it onto the building.
Israel Fried, Herskovic’s attorney, gave his closing statement on September 20 and Danny Chun, the judge in the case, scheduled the prosecution’s closing argument for the afternoon of September 23. Tim Gough, a bureau chief and an assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case with Tyear Middleton, also an assistant district attorney, gave his roughly hour-long close ending at about 3:15 in the afternoon. Chun adjourned for 45 minutes and returned to court to announce his verdict.
Herskovic was allowed to remain free on bond until September 26 when Chun will reconsider the 24-year-old’s status. No sentencing date was set, but Chun noted that Herskovic faces a minimum sentence of three-and-a-half years and up to 15 years in prison when sentenced.
Taj Patterson, after suffering an assault by a gang of men in Williamsburg in December 2013.
Following the verdict, Gough asked that Herskovic be remanded. Chun noted that Herskovic has surrendered his passport and that he had been allowed to travel outside the country since his 2014 arrest and returned for his court dates.
[Editor's note: On September 26, Chun set November 14 as the sentencing date. Herskovic will remain out on bail until then.]
Ultimately, Herskovic was undone by the DNA evidence. The defense argued that Herskovic’s DNA ended up on the sneaker because some other person first touched him and then touched the sneaker. Fried also attacked the method used to test the DNA, called high sensitivity DNA testing.
High sensitivity DNA testing uses samples that are measured in picograms, or trillionths of a gram. The results are then analyzed by software called the Forensic Statistical Tool, which produces a ratio indicating how likely it is that a particular individual contributed to the sample. The testing was done by the city medical examiner’s office. While many labs in the US do high sensitivity DNA testing, the city medical examiner is the only lab in the US that uses the method to produce evidence in criminal trials. The Forensic Statistical Tool is the city medical examiner’s own proprietary software.
While Fried’s attacks on the DNA testing might have been effective with a jury, Chun was clearly knowledgeable about the science behind the testing and comfortable with that evidence.
Pinchas Braver and Abraham Winkler had previously pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment in the attack. Charges against Aharon Hollender and Joseph Fried were dropped. Mayer Herskovic refused a deal, and his trial began on August 29.
In June of this year, Patterson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, three of the police officers who were involved in the initial investigation, the five men who were charged and a sixth man, the Williamsburg Safety Patrol, and the Shmira Volunteer Patrol. In the lawsuit, Patterson charged that the city and the police department have long privileged these patrols and the Hasidic community. Police records show the local precinct initially closed its investigation just an hour after the attack on Patterson. The case was reopened a week later when the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force took over.