NEW YORK (CBS 2/AP) — An appeals court says a groundbreaking case misapplied a New York state anti-terrorism law to a killing that reflected “ordinary street crime, not terrorism.”
Tuesday’s ruling lessens the severity of Edgar Morales’ 2007 conviction on charges including manslaughter. It calls for him to be resentenced.
He’s now serving 40 years to life in prison. The ruling eliminates the possibility of a life term.
The Bronx District Attorney’s office said Wednesday it was reviewing the ruling. A lawyer for Morales says he feels vindicated.
His case marked a novel use of the 2001 law. It says some crimes can be considered terrorism if they’re intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population.”
Morales was convicted in a gang-related Bronx shooting that killed a 10-year-old bystander. On the night of the crime in question, Aug. 18, 2002, Morales and the other gang members came to the basement of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to a christening to which they were not invited. A violent fight ensued, and what happened next, Bronx DA Robert T. Johnson said, was a kind of terrorism the community deserves to be free of.
The 10-year-old victim, Malenny Mendez, was accidentally shot in the melee and another man was paralyzed from the shots. All of the gang members escaped, leaving Morales to hold the bag. He became the first person to be tried and punished under the state’s 2001 anti-terrorism statute.
In a statement when the trial began, Johnson explained why Morales deserved to be tried under the statute. “The obvious need of this statute is to protect society against acts of political terror. However, the terror perpetrated by gangs, which all too often occurs on the streets of New York, also fits squarely within the scope of this statute.”
On the street though, there was little sympathy for Morales’ legal dilemma. “Whatever you get, you deserve because that could have been my daughter or anyone’s child, and for you to shoot recklessly, you get what you deserve. That’s just how I feel,” said Garrett Shaw, who witnessed the shooting in 2002.
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