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Three Sentenced in Death of Gay Man

Via NY Times


In a case that put sexual identity, hatred and ultimately forgiveness in leading roles, three men were sentenced to prison on November 20th for their roles in chasing a gay man to his death in highway traffic in Brooklyn last year.

Their terms diverged: For the planner, Anthony Fortunato, 7 to 21 years. For the lure, John Fox, 13 to 21. And for the aggressor, Ilya Shurov, 17 1/2.

The numerical accounting covered a confounding set of circumstances. The defendants had played starkly different roles. One had claimed to be gay, just like the victim. Their juries had returned contradictory verdicts. And the very nature of hate had been drawn into question.
This was not simple arithmetic, it was algebra.

As the moment of sentencing drew near, the victim’s father, Zeke Sandy, stood up in court and lamented the killing.

“These hate crimes become a cancer; it’s a disease,” Mr. Sandy said. “I don’t know why we have to go butcher one another because we don’t like what they are, who they are.”

From the start, the case had drawn equal measures of outrage and beguilement. In a working-class section of Sheepshead Bay, prosecutors said, four young men conspired to rob a gay man of money or drugs. From an online chat room, they chose Michael J. Sandy, 29, a designer from Williamsburg.

On Oct. 8, 2006, Mr. Sandy was lured to a secluded beach by the Dead Horse Inlet, then was punched and chased onto the Belt Parkway, and struck by a sport utility vehicle; he later died. The driver never stopped, and has not been arrested.

Four men accused of planning the attack were arrested on hate crime charges. Prosecutors said they had selected Mr. Sandy for his sexual orientation, believing a gay man would hesitate to resist or report the attack.

The youngest defendant, Gary Timmins, 17, pleaded guilty to attempted robbery as a hate crime. He agreed to testify against his friends in exchange for a four-year prison sentence.

Charges against the remaining three were assigned to Justice Jill Konviser-Levine of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. Appointed to the bench in March 2005, she had yet to conduct a highly publicized criminal trial. As a senior assistant counsel to Gov. George E. Pataki, she had helped draft the hate crime law.

In pretrial hearings, defense lawyers argued that the hate crime charges were unfounded. The defendants, they said, harbored no animosity toward gays.

As the case developed, Mr. Sandy’s mother, Denise Sandy, quietly made herself a spectral but central figure, by faithfully attending pretrial hearings.

When Justice Konviser-Levine upheld the hate crime charges, the defense cases diverged. John Fox, 20, and Anthony Fortunato, 21, were tried together before separate juries.

A lawyer for Mr. Fox, John D. Patten, focused on the composition of the felony murder charge, which required the element of attempted forcible robbery. By posing as a gay man, Mr. Fox had sought only to trick Mr. Sandy out of money or marijuana, Mr. Patten argued. Jurors convicted Mr. Fox of manslaughter and attempted robbery as hate crimes but rejected the murder charge.

Mr. Fortunato testified in his own defense, saying that he was gay. Luring Mr. Sandy to the beach to smoke marijuana, he said, had been meant as a plan to test his friends’ attitudes toward homosexuality, a prelude to revealing his own orientation. He was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime.

The last defendant, Ilya Shurov, 21, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempted robbery as hate crimes.

As Justice Konviser-Levine contemplated the sentencing, she received letters from some of the defendants, their relatives, friends and supporters of the Sandy family and the public.

As the hearing began yesterday, all but Mr. Timmins (who will be sentenced later) were led into the courtroom together.

Mrs. Sandy stood and spoke of her son. In a steady monotone, she said: “I no longer have Michael in my life. I am hurting every day of my life.”

Turning to the convicted men, she said: “I do forgive you for what you have done, but I also want justice to be done. I now leave your sentencing in the hands of Judge Jill Konviser.”

With that, Mr. Shurov rose. Though he had punched Mr. Sandy and led the chase, he had also been the only one to accept his responsibility, said a prosecutor, Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi. The judge endorsed his negotiated sentence of 17 1/2 years.

For Mr. Fortunato, prosecutors asked for the maximum penalty of 8 1/3 to 25 years. Without participating in the chase, Ms. Nicolazzi said, he had orchestrated the attack. When his turn came, he faced the Sandy family.

“I wish I had the resolve to stop what happened that night,” he said, “but I acted like a coward and I turned and walked away.”

Justice Konviser-Levine sentenced him to 7 to 21 years. His mother, Joan Fortunato, fell into tears.

For Mr. Fox, who had escorted Mr. Sandy to the beach and taken part in the chase, prosecutors requested a 20-year sentence. He, too, addressed the family.

“I’m very sorry for what happened to your son,” he said. “I didn’t mean for it to happen, and I tried to stop it. And I thank you for your forgiveness.”

Justice Konviser-Levine ordered sentences amounting to between 13 and 21 years in prison.

Outside the courtroom, Mrs. Sandy spoke once more of forgiveness. “The Lord put it in my heart to forgive them for what they had done,” she said. “And that’s why I was able to do it.”

6 comments to Three Sentenced in Death of Gay Man

  • ?

    i dont think john fox was a bad kid. and I was a teenage once in gerritsen and this could have easily have been me. kids do stupid things. its a sad situation all around but this was not a hate crime. this guy just happened to be the target because of opportunity, not hate. hate crime laws are a crock and should be repealed. all crimes are hate crimes!

    now these kids will sit idle in a jail cell with smarter criminals. they’ll learn all the tricks and come out bitter, unproductive members of society. dont get me wrong, they should be punished. but jail does not rehabilitate you; work and education will and thats the last thing they’ll learn in jail. there should be a way to take away their freedom for 5-10 years (what i think they deserve) but truly rehabilitate them. the army used to be one alternative thirty years ago but todays army is nothing like it was.

  • Gerritsen Girl

    I feel they are where they belong, I don’t feel it was a hate crime, they didn’t beat him up or kill him because he was gay, they used it as a tool to rob him which is a crime in itself and unfortunately the poor man was killed due to their deception.

    What is wrong with our kids today? I would never have thought to do this to another human being when I was a kid, although I can’t speak for all of my peers growing up. What happened to good morals, to accountabililty, today parents say, “Not my kid”, so there must be this imaginary kid running around doing all of these descructive things.

    This isn’t just a Gerritsen Beach thing, it’s an everywhere thing. There are really great kids and some not so great kids all over.

    I don’t want to put blame on the victim either but it isn’t a great idea to meet strangers in dark places at night to have sex, you need to be a little smarter about things, especially with Aids still running rampant even with all we know about it.

    God rest Mr. Sandy’s soul and hopefully it will be a lesson for everyone.

  • man

    I knew John Fox in my earlier youth. This was and is a bit hard to believe, knowing the kindness borne to his heart. And I’m not just saying this–he really is a good person. A good person who made a poor decision one night–which can be said about every living being who ever walked the earth. Bless the Sandy family for their loving forgiveness.

    My prayers go out to all affected by this unfortunate event.
    All the Love.

  • vlad s

    i feel bad for the kid who died but his an idiot for meeting someone online to get fucked in a dark as park like plum beach … seriously? ok fine a really bad accident happend god rest his soul… kids r kids… none of them were bad kids… i knew the kid ilya who got 17 years.. and he was a good loyal kid who was simply a trouble maker in his youth like we all were… me and my friends were all trust fund babys in the neighborhood and we did plenty of shit in our day… now the kid goes to jail for 17 years and losses his life… its not fair either way … me and him werent super close but we hung out here and there and i think they all shoulda gotten like 7-8 years bids and got out in 33 percent less time on good behaivor… and possibly after 3 years on a work release… cause believe me sitting in that cell for even a week is a lot to take in i never been incarserated but i wish the judge cut these kids some slack

  • robert paulson

    John was a very nice kid, this is just a tragic and unfortunate series of events that i know they never intended to happen the way it did. i still remember john from scouts and i see his father often..i hope his family are able to cope.