Aside from the obvious, two Latino gay men murdered in the same neighborhood more than 10 years apart, have more in common. Both galvanized the community. Vigils, and candlelight marches ensued in the wake of their deaths, with calls for the murders to be investigated as hate crimes. Rewards were raised for information concerning both murders. In both cases one one of the alleged attackers fled to another country.
And, most of all, more than ten years later, here we are still talking about whether stuff like what happened to Garzon and Rivera should even be considered hate crimes.
In Rivera’s case, the three men who attacked him went out looking for a gay man (or a drug addict) to beat up. In Garzon’s the prosecution said the attack on Garzon ensued after Garzon made a pass at his attacker. In both cases, what happened to these two men most likely happened because they were gay men, gay men who happened to be walking through Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, and crossed paths with the men who killed them; along 77th street; eleven years and one block apart.
Julio Rivera was first.
Julio Rivera (1961 – July 2, 1990) was a Latino gay man from Queens, New York, by way of Columbia. On July 2, 1990, he was lured into an attack by Daniel Doyle, Esat Bici, and Eric Brown. Rivera was beaten by the three men, and fatally stabbed by Doyle. Doyle, Bici, and Brown had gone out that evening in search of a drug addict or gay man to attack.
Rivera, 29, was worked as a bartender, and had lived in Jackson Heights for 10 years.1) He was the youngest of six children, raised in the South Bronx. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade, and moved to Manhattan as a teenager.2)
On the night Rivera was attacked, he had been returning from a friends house in Rego Park to the Jackson Heights apartment he shared with a friend. Rivera was attacked on the Jackson Heights playground at around 3:00 a.m. on July 2, 1990.3)
At some point on his way home, Rivera encountered Brown. Brown, a former student at the Art Students League in Manhattan, had been chosen to approach and lure Rivera because his shoulder length hair made his less threatening than Doyle and Bici, whose heads were shaved in skinhead fashion. Brown lured Rivera to the playground, where Bici and Doyle appeared. Bici then hit Rivera in the head with a 40-ouce beer bottle, causing him to double over. Bici then took out a hammer and began attacking Rivera with it. Doyle punched Rivera in the face, kicked him in the stomach, and then stabbed Rivera, delivering the would that would prove to be fatal. At trial the prosecutor claimed that Brown also hit Rivera in the face with a wrench, but Doyle did not mention that in his testimony.4)
Doyle, Bici, and Brown were affiliated with the Doc Marten Skinheads street gang.5) The name caused the gang – which included Black, Asian, and Hispanic members – to be confused with neo-nazi skinheads, and was changed to stand for “Drugs, Money, and Sex.”
Allen Sack, a friend of Rivera’s arrived on the scene to find Rivera lying in a pool of blood.6)
Garzon died of the wounds sustained from the attack in the playground on 77th Street. According to gays in the area, attacks like the one that killed Rivera had been going on in the area for 15 years.7) Police found traces of cocaine in Rivera’s blood, initially leading them to believe the murder was drug-related.8) When police initially refused to classify Rivera’s murder as bias-related, gay groups responded with protests and demonstrations.9)
Rivera’s murder galvanized the gay community in Jackson Heights. Queer Nation distributed flyers in Jackson Heights, and 350 peopled joined in a candlelight march from to the schoolyard where Rivera was attacked.10) Another demonstration marched from Jackson Heights to Gracie mansion, demanding that the police declare Rivera’s murder a bias-related crime. The New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project offered a $3,500 reward for information on the case. 11)
Arrest & Charges
Doyle, Bici and Brown were arrested in November 1990, on second degree murder and weapons charges. Doyle and Brown were arrested on November 12, and Bici was arrested on November 19. Police also found the hammer used in the attack.
The Queens district attorney announced that he would treated the case as a bias-related incident. Four days later, on December 17, the police department’s Bias Review Panel classified the murder as a bias-related crime.12)
Doyle testified as the main defense witness at the trial of Bici and Brown. Though Doyle said he instigated the attack, and was originally charged with second degree murder, he was allowed to plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter in exchange for testifying against Bici and Brown. 13) He was sentenced to 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
Doyle said that he, Bici, and Brown had been drinking heavily at a party at his house on the night of the attack. Afterwards, they went out with a claw hammer, a wrench, and a beer bottle, looking for “a drug dealer or a drug addict or a homo out cruising” to assault. Doyle told Brown that he would like to “beat some people up, stretch some people out.”14) Bici, a high school drop out who had held various part-time jobs, overheard the conversation and wanted to join them.15) They went to the school yard because they knew it was a place where gay men often went to cruise.16)
During his second day of testimony, Doyle admitted that he did not originally tell police that he, Bici, and Brown set out to find a gay man to ambush. He had originally told police that he was on his way back home after buying beer, when he came upon Bici and Brown already struggling with Rivera. The defense claimed that Doyle changed his story after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution, which allowed him to avoid a second degree murder charge that carried a potential sentence of 25 years to life in prison.17)
After testimony in the trial ended, the defense argued that the evidence present was not sufficient to send the case to the jury. The judge rejected the defense motions, and refused to dismiss second degree murder charges against Brown and Bici, but said he would consider allowing the jury to consider manslaughter and assault in addition to the murder charges.18)
Bici and Brown were charged with second degree murder, but the judge instructed the jury that they could also consider charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.19)
Bici and Brown were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison – the maximum sentence – for their role in Rivera’s murder. Bici and Brown were convicted of helping Doyle lure Rivera to the playground where the three ambushed him. 20)
In February 1995, an appellate court overturned the convictions of Bici and Brown, on the grounds that the trial judge had made fundamental procedural errors, which deprived the defendants of their rights. The appellate panel called for a new trial, but added that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to legally establish their guilt.21)
On May 13, 1996, Brown pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of first degree manslaughter with a sentence of 5 to 15 years. As part of his appeal, Brown agreed to testify against Bici. When he appeared in court, Brown said that he, Doyle and Bici had agreed to attack a gay man in the schoolyard. As part of the plan, Brown said he engaged Rivera in conversation, and lured him into the ambush by Doyle and Bici. Brown said he ran away when the attack began.22)
On May 14, 1996, Bici failed to appear at a court hearing, causing the judge to revoke his $350,000 bail. Bici remained a fugitive for six years. He was rumored to be in Europe23), touring with the New York hardcore band Madball, prompting an international manhunt. 24). Bici was featured twice on television’s “America’s Most Wanted”25)
On October 2, 2002, Bici was killed in Tijuana, Mexico in what appeared to be a drug related murder. He had been shot in the shoulder and the head. Bici was initially identified by through a double eagle tattoo he had attempted to have removed. Fingerprints later confirmed his identity.26)
Rivera’s murder would be remembered when Edgar Garzon, a gay Latino man, was murdered in 2001 – in what was believed to be a hate crime – just a block away from the playground where Rivera was killed.
And eleven years later, Edgar Garzon headed town 77th street.
Edgar Garzon (1966 – August, 15, 2001) was a Latino gay man from Queens, New York, by way of Columbia. On August 15, 2001, Garzon was allegedly attacked by John McGhee after leaving bar at around 3:50 a.m. Garzon remained in a coma due to his injuries, and died on September 4, 2001. At trial, the prosecution said the attack ensued after Garzon flirted with McGhee.
Garzon left his family behind in Columbia, to build a life for himself in New York City.1) He was a dancer, but made his living as set designer for local Latino theater groups. He was also a member of the Columbia Lesbian and Gay Association.2)
On August 15, 2001, Garzon was out drinking with friends. Shortly before 4:00 a.m., he left Friend’s Tavern on Roosevelt, in the Jaskcon Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York. McGhee spent the night smoking marijuana and riding around the neighborhood in a red car, with Christopher Ricalde, 14, and another man named .3)
Witness accounts differ on what happened next, when Garzon crossed paths with McGhee, Ricalde and the other man in the car. The attack apparently took place after an exchange between Garzon and one of the men in the car.4)
Garzon’s friend Raul Duque said he was with Garzon when the red car approached for the first time. Duques had been out drinking with Garzon and friends. The two were headed home, and had reached 76th Street, where Garzon stopped urinate. The red car pulled up beside Garzon, and he exchanged words with someone in the car.5) Duques did not hear the conversation, and said Garzon told him that someone in the car had invited him to a party, but he refused. Duques later said he assumed that statement was Garzon’s bravado in response to being rejected.6) Duques and Garzon saw the red car a second time, and Garzon expresed concern. Afterwards, Duques and Garzon parted company, with Garzon heading down 77th Street alone. A bank surveillance camera captured a second encounter between Garzon and the occupants of red car. The video caught the car, but not the men inside. It shows Garzon stopping and looking intently into the car. After Garzon goes on his way, someone in the car goes after him, out of camera range.7)
Frank Byrne, a resident of 77th Street at the time, said that he was awaked that morning by “three loud whacks.” He looked out of his window to see a man lying on the sidewalk, a second man standing over him, and a third man moving back towards a red car.
The next time Duques saw the red car was when he came rushing back to 77th Street after hearing a loud noise, and turne the corner to see two men getting into it very quickly. He found Garzon laying on the ground, and called 911. 8)
Sgt. Eileen M. Walter was the first police officer to respond to the 911 call, and arrived to find Garzon lying in a pool of his own blood, barely conscious and “constantly moaning.” Emergency medical technician Stephen Carter said that Garzon’s head injuries were so serious that he and his partner could not stop the bleeding, and saw what appeared to be brain matter on Garzon’s face.9)
Police believed that he was attacked with a blunt object10) such as a hammer11) , a baseball bat, or a lead pipe12) , but had no witnesses who had actually seen the assault on Garzon. Police also believed Garzon had been robbed of $1013).
Garzon was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he remained in a coma until he died on on Septeber 4, 2001. An autopy revealed that Garzon had suffered several skull fractures, and a brain hemmorage. In response to Garzon’s death, gay activists raise nearly $3,000 in reward money for a tip leading to an arrest. The reward fund grew to $15,000. A candlelight march from the bar to the murder scene was held on September 6, 2001 14)
Garzon’s murder brought back memories of the murder of Julio Rivera – a gay man who was beaten and stabbed just a block from where Garzon was assaulted.15)
Escape to London & Arrest
In 2003, Ricalde – who had been a passenger in the red car the night Garzon was attacked – came forward, initially saying his knowledge of the murder was only second hand16) , but eventually identified McGhee as Garzon’s assailant.17)
At the time of the assault, McGhee and Ricalde were living with Ricalde’s father. One week after the attack on Garzon, they watched a television news report on the assault, and Ricalde said McGhee suggested he might have to leave the city.18)
McGhee fled to London, where his wife and child were living, in December 2001.19) Police located him there in 2004, but did not believe they had enough evidence to have him extradited. Scotland Yard agreed to keep him under surveillance.
When McGhee applied for British citizenship in 2006, he lied about previous convictions on his visa application, and was removed from the country.20) New York police, having been told by British authorities what flight McGhee would be on, met him at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and McGhee was arrested on June 28, 2006, and charged with one count of second degree murder and one count of manslaughter in Garzon’s death. While in police custody, McGhee made statements placed him in New York at the time of Garzon’s murder. 21)
Trial & Mistrial
McGhee went to trial on July 12, 2007. In her opening statement, assistant district attorney Karen Ross asserted that Garzon was attacked because he “made the mistake of hitting on” McGhee. She also told jurors that they would hear from an eyewitness to the assault, who was a passenger in the red car along with McGhee; Ricalde, who had known McGhee for eight years.22) The defense countered that no DNA or fingerprints linked McGhee to the crime, and no weapon had been found, despite defense and police assertions that a weapon was used in the attack on Garzon.23)
Ricalde testified that McGhee attacked Garzon on August 15, 2001. Ricalde said that he saw McGhee knock Garzon down with one punch and then punch him repeatedly, causing Garzon’s head to slam in to the ground.
Ricalde’s testimony differed from from that of other witnesses and the assistant district attorney’s opening remarks in the following ways:
*Ricalde testified that McGhee attacked Garzon with his bare hands, while police believed Garzon had been attacked with a blunt object.
*Ross said Garzon was attacked after hitting on McGhee. Ricalde testified that Garzon was rebuffed twice, and was attacked when he approached a third time, when McGhee left the car to urinate. According to Ricalde, “The guy was reaching for something.”
*Ricalde said the attack happened on 76th Street, while every other witness placed the incident on 77th street.
*Ricalde also said that a second man, presumably Garzon’s friend Raul Duque, was nearby at the time of the attack. However, Duque testified that he was not present for the attack, and arrived on the scene after Garzon was was already on the ground.
*Ricalde said he and McGhee had spent the night smoking marijuana and riding around the neighborhood with a third man with the nickname YaYa, and that Yaya exited the car and urged McGhee to stop. Byrne, however, only saw three men; Garzon, and the two men who drove off in the red car.24)
The defense attacked inconsistencies in the defense case, as well as Ricalde’s criminal background, including breaking into a car and belonging to two gangs; the Bloods and the Latin Kings.
On July 24, 2007, the judge in McGhee’s murder trial declared a mistrial after a juror call in sick two days in a row, causing the jury to suspend deliberations for four days.25)