NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A Bronx teenager accused of fatally stabbing a classmate and wounding another has been found guilty.
Abel Cedeno, 19, was convicted on charges of manslaughter, assault and criminal possession of a weapon, CBS2’s Scott Rapoport reports.READ MORE: New York City Movie Theaters Reopen After Nearly A Year Of COVID Restrictions
Prosecutors say Cedeno killed 15-year-old Matthew McCree and injured 16-year-old Ariane Laboy at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation back in September 2017. Laboy ended up in a coma.
The verdict was rendered by the judge in the case, Michael Gross. Cedeno waived his right to a jury trial.
On each charge, without elaboration, the judge repeated, “I find Mr. Cedeno guilty.”
Cedeno’s crestfallen family left the courtroom in tears without comment.
Throughout the trial, Cedeno and his defense team adamantly maintained Cedeno was protecting himself on that day after being systematically bullied because of his sexuality, saying he was in fear for his life.
Last week, Cedeno took the stand to testify, saying the bullying turned physical on the day of the attack.
“I began getting hit in the back of the head with broken pencils, pen caps and bunched up paper,” Cedeno said. “Matthew punched me on the cheek two or three times.”
He admitted he pulled a knife from his pocket, but said it “was only meant to scare people away.” When asked if he remembered stabbing McCree and Laboy, he said “not specifically the times when the blade went inside them.”
Outside the courtroom, McCree’s mother, Louna Dennis, said she didn’t believe Cedeno’s story.
“What I didn’t understand is he don’t remember at no point in time when he used the knife, but however, he remember when he was being hit. He remembered everything when it came to his side, but when it was his turn, he can’t remember anything,” said Dennis. “None of these boys was bullied … None of these kids was troubled kids.”
The prosecution has steadfastly asserted Cedeno came to school that day with a knife and that Cedeno made choices that purposely caused death and injury.READ MORE: New York State Legislature Votes To Curb Gov. Cuomo's Emergency Powers
The case prompted increased pressure for schools to use metal detectors and more rigorous reporting of bullying, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reports.
The Department of Education says it’s invested $8 million in anti-bullying initiatives, but could not comment on the trial due to ongoing litigation.
“The Department of Education has blood on its hands and needs now to look at the schools and the safety of students,” Sanford Rubinstein, an attorney for McCree’s family, said.
Both victims’ families have filed civil lawsuits against the DOE, one of which seeks $25 million in damages for wrongful death.
“We are going to continue to fight for justice and fight to correct the wrongs,” Matthew Blit, an attorney for Laboy’s family, said.
Following the verdict, Dennis expressed thoughts of relief.
“I’m grateful. I’m just so happy that I got, that I got justice for my son,” she said. “I can finally get to mourn my son. I don’t have to worry about having to go to court… I can mourn him the way I really need to mourn him, and not worry about this part.”
Web Extra: Matthew McCree’s Mother Speaks Out After Verdict
“God is good and justice has prevailed,” Laboy’s mother said.
Cedeno’s lawyer asked that his client remain free following the verdict. Judge Gross denied the request, saying Cedeno no longer enjoyed the presumption of innocence.
Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 10. Cedeno could face up to 50 years in prison.MORE NEWS: Brooklyn Teen Facing Rape Charges In Alleged Attack At Mount Saint Mary College
Attorneys for Cedeno asked Judge Gross to consider granting him youthful offender status. That would potentially lower Cedeno’s time on the manslaughter and assault charges from five to 25 years to 16 months to four years.