In a videotaped statement that was played for the jury at the second trial of Keith Phoenix, the accused killer of Jose Sucuzhanay, Phoenix said he thought Sucuzhanay had a gun and so he beat him twice with a bat.
“I see him going like this reaching for a gun,” Phoenix said as he moved his hand towards the waistband of his pants in a 19-minute statement that was shown to the jury on June 22. “I hit him four times with the bat. I hit him like in the midsection and then the face.”
The Brooklyn district attorney said that Phoenix, 30, and Hakim Scott, 27, attacked Jose and his brother, Romel, after mistaking them for a gay couple as they were walking home early in the morning on December 7, 2008 in Brooklyn’s Bushwick section. The two Ecuadorian immigrants were huddled close together to stay warm. Witnesses said anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs were used. The defense argued that this was an alcohol-fueled dispute that turned vicious.
Phoenix faces multiple second degree murder, manslaughter, assault, and attempted assault charges with some charged as hate crimes. His first trial ended in a mistrial on May 11 after 11 jurors wanted a murder conviction and one held out for a manslaughter conviction. The jury did not believe the attack was a hate crime.
Scott was convicted on manslaughter and attempted assault charges on May 6 though not as hate crimes. The two men were tried together, but with separate juries.
In his statement, Phoenix said that he, Scott, and Demetrius Nathaniel, Phoenix’s cousin, were returning to the Bronx in Phoenix’s car after attending a party in Brooklyn. As they came to the intersection of Kossuth Place and Bushwick Avenue, Phoenix said he saw two people in the path of his car.
“I seen two people in the street so I blew the horn twice,” he said. One of the two men kicked his car and he stopped to look for damage. As he stepped out of the car, Scott had already exited and was battling with the brothers, Phoenix said.
“By the time I hopped out they was already fighting,” he said. Phoenix said he delivered two sets of blows to Jose, four strikes to his body and two to his head. That is generally consistent with statements from the five eyewitnesses to the attack. The jury in Phoenix’s first trial clearly did not believe that he was acting in self-defense when he beat Jose.
When questioning Romel on June 21, the prosecution elicited testimony that he and Jose had been at a club for a drink moments before the attack and that they were searched before entering the club. No weapons were recovered.
Daniel Ludemann, the first police officer on the scene, testified on June 15 that no weapons were found on or near Jose. In his statement, Phoenix said he put the bat back in his car after the attack and discarded it the next day at a Bronx park. The bat was never found.
Also on June 22, William Gonzalez, a detective with a New York City police department warrant squad, testified that when Phoenix was arrested in a Yonkers apartment on February 27, 2009 he said “I killed someone. Does that make me a bad person?”
The trial will continue on June 23.