Queens DA Says Flirting Led to 2001 Edgar Garzon Murder
Source: Gay City News
By: DUNCAN OSBORNE
Edgar Garzon, a 35-year-old gay man, lingered in a coma for almost three weeks before dying after a brutal 2001 attack.
John L. McGhee, the accused killer of Edgar Garzon, made the assault because Garzon flirted with him, the Queens prosecutor asserted at the start of McGhee's trial.
"I will prove to you that on August 15, 2001... his defendant, John McGhee, attacked Edgar Garzon," Karen L. Ross, the assistant district attorney who is handling the case, told the jury in her July 12 opening statement. "I will prove to you that this defendant did this because Mr. Garzon was a gay man and he made the mistake of hitting on this defendant."
McGhee is charged with one count of second-degree murder and one manslaughter count in the case. The minimum sentence for second-degree murder is 15-to-life, but the average timed served is just under 25 years.
Garzon, 35, was in a coma until his death on September 4, 2001.
Police knew little about the attack and McGhee, 39, left the U.S. for London in December 2001 to reconcile with his wife and child there. Police knew at least two men participated in the assault and they drove away in a red car. Ross said an eyewitness to the incident, who was 14 at the time, came forward a year after the attack and identified McGhee as the assailant.
"You're going to hear from somebody who was friends with this defendant who was in the car," Ross said.
She told the jury that another witness, Chris Ricalde, will testify that McGhee "acknowledged that that was the guy from the other night" as the two watched a television news report on the Garzon attack.
Police located McGhee in London in 2003. He was sent back to the U.S. by British authorities in June of 2006 after he allegedly lied on a visa application there. New York City police met his flight from London and he was arrested hours later.
Ross said that when police introduced themselves at the airport, McGhee said, "What am I looking at? Three, four, five years?"
The defense aimed at weaknesses in the case. The Queens prosecutor asserted early in the case that a weapon was used to strike Garzon, but no weapon has been found. Charles D. Abercrombie, McGhee's attorney, said that no DNA and no fingerprints link his client to the assault and the red car has never been located.
"No one is debating that Mr. Garzon was assaulted on the street that night, the question is who did it?" Abercrombie told the jury. "Pay attention, pay strict attention to the absence of corroborating evidence in this case."
Abercrombie said his client returned to the U.S. for a 2004 visit when police knew who he was and were looking for him.
"You may ask yourself what's that about?" Abercrombie said. "A man who is supposedly wanted is going through customs... At the end of the day the evidence will show that John McGhee did not commit this crime. Who did? We don't know."
The first three witnesses, who included Leonor Garzon, Edgar's mother, essentially testified to the brutality of the crime.
Sergeant Eileen M. Walter was the first police officer to respond to an early morning 911 call of an assault with a weapon in progress. When she and her partner arrived on 77th Street in Jackson Heights she found Garzon lying in a pool of his own blood and barely conscious. Walter said Garzon was "constantly moaning. It was awful."
Stephen Carpenter, the emergency medical technician with the city fire department who responded, said he and his partner could not stop the bleeding and Garzon had suffered serious head injuries.
"It was significant because that to me looked like brain matter," Carpenter said, referring to visible flesh laying on Garzon's face. "That would indicate extensive head trauma."
Before Leonor testified, and with the jury out of the courtroom, Abercrombie asked that she be limited to identifying Edgar from his hospital photos and she not be allowed to discuss his life or achievements.
"The character of the victim is not an issue in this case," he told Robert J. Hanophy, the judge in the case. Ross and Hanophy agreed.
Questioned by Ross, Leonor went on at length about Edgar's work as a film editor, restaurant owner, and set designer. He was "very creative," she said. She wept when asked about first seeing Edgar in the hospital.
"His face had no shape at all," Leonor said through a translator. "I kept talking to him and I was afraid to kiss him."
When Ross asked, "Did he respond to you at all?" Leonor burst into tears and said only "No, no."
While Abercrombie could have objected, given the earlier agreement with the prosecutor and the judge, interrupting a weeping mother's testimony could anger the jury. It was only when Ross paused to introduce two hospital photos of Edgar that Abercrombie got a discussion out of the jury's hearing and Leonor was dismissed from the stand.
Hanophy later told the jury that both sides had agreed that Leonor had identified Edgar.
With the jury out of the courtroom, Abercrombie asked for a mistrial or that the jury be told to ignore Leonor's testimony. Hanophy denied both motions.
The day's final witness was Frank Byrne, a former 77th Street resident, who was awakened that morning by "three loud thwacks," he said.
"It was almost like a baseball bat hitting a ball," Byrne said. "It was very loud."
He looked out his window to see a man lying on the sidewalk with a second man standing over him and third man moving toward a red car. He did not see their faces. The man on the sidewalk did not move and only the other two left in the car, which, Byrne said, was "very loud."
The prosecution's theory is that there were three people in the car -- McGhee, a friend of his named Arnold, and the 14-year-old. The trial will resume on July 16.