The two men convicted of the brutal baseball-bat beating death of Ecuadoran immigrant Jose Sucuzhañay were given the maximum sentence today in Brooklyn Supreme Court. Justice Patricia M. DiMango sentenced Keith Phoenix, 30, who was convicted of murder and assault as a hate crime, to 37 years to life in prison. The first case against Phoenix ended in mistrial. His accomplice in the crime, Hakim Scott, 27, who was convicted of manslaughter, was sentenced to 37 years in prison.
Prosecutors charged that Phoenix and Scott attacked Sucuzhañay and his brother Romel, because they were Latino and believed the brothers were gay as they walked arm-in-arm from a party in December 2008.
Romel Sucuzhañay, who has since moved back to Ecuador, said, "I have mental problems. And it is all because of the ignorance of these people and this distant event" reports the New York Times. Suffering minor injuries when he was attacked by Scott, Romel was a witness to the brutal beating of brother at the hands of Phoenix.
The Sucuzhañay family has plans to setup a foundation in honor of Jose that will help the NYPD with rewards to find suspects whose attacks are motivated by hate. The victims brother, Diego Sucuzhañay, told the Associated Press that he is sorry his brother had to die for this message. "Todays sentencing sends a message. The city will not tolerate hate against anyone against immigrants," he said.
In a 2008-videotaped confession taken at the 83 Precinct, Phoenix coldly tells investigators, "So I killed someone. That makes me a bad guy?" However, in court today Phoenix was more remorseful and through his lawyer told the judge, "I swear to God that is not what I intended to happen," reports the AP. Hakim Scott, who was also looking for leniency, told the judge he came from a good family and begged for a second chance. The judge was not moved she told Phoenix that it was beyond comprehension that anyone could "take another human beings life in such a cruel and violent manner."
The AP reported that Phoenix and Scotts families wept in the courtroom after the sentencing and refused to comment. Also in the courtroom was Joses mother, Julia Quituna, who made the trip from Ecuador to attend the sentencing.
"As a mother I feel sad for the family of those who took my son. But they had no right to take the life of my son and leave his two children orphaned. For me, it is the greatest pain in my life," she said.
There have been other attacks on immigrants since the Sucuzhañay incident, including Mexican worker Mario Vera in Bushwick last October, and ten "hate-related" attacks in Staten Island in the last four months, according to Make the Road NY, a Bushwick-based immigant advocacy organization.
Make the Road blames an anti-immigrant atmosphere for the violent trend, punctuated by the recent law in Arizona that opponents say encourages racial profiling by police. MRNY advocates more tolerance education in public schools.
Karina Claudio, the LGBTQ Justice Organizer for MRNY told BushwickBK that they are glad that Phoenix was convicted of a hate crime but it is unfortunate the other suspect was not charged with a hate crime. It sends the wrong message on how a hate crime is catergorized. There was enough evidence to convict Scott on hate crime charges.
The solution to hate crimes are more complex than just sending someone away to jail for life. We need to educate the youth and teach them tolerance and respect, said Claudio