Calling the accused killer of Edgard Mercado a “predator” and a “killer,” an assistant district attorney asked a Manhattan jury to convict Davawn Robinson of second-degree murder in the 2009 slaying.
“There’s only one issue for you to decide and that’s whether he intended to cause Mr. Mercado’s death, and the answer to that is yes,” said Leila Kermani, one of two assistant district attorneys on the case, during June 25 closing arguments.
Robinson, 25, was originally charged with a single second-degree murder count, which requires that the jury believe that Robinson intended to kill Mercado when he strangled him to death in 2009. If jurors acquit him on that charge, they would then consider second-degree manslaughter. Manslaughter requires the jury to find that Robinson acted recklessly. With an acquittal on manslaughter, jurors would weigh criminally negligent homicide.
In his trial testimony and statements to police and the prosecutor, Robinson said he met Mercado, 39, in the West Village. He purchased cocaine using Mercado’s money. After a drink at a Christopher Street bar, they traveled to Mercado’s East Village apartment. Once there, they drank wine and used the cocaine. Mercado asked him to engage in erotic asphyxiation as part of their sexual encounter, Robinson said, and he accidentally strangled the older man to death during that encounter.
After realizing he had killed Mercado, Robinson used his cell phone to call 911 and spent 22 minutes telling the operator he had just killed a man in self-defense. He then fled the apartment, taking Mercado’s computer and cell phone with him. When police found him at his New Jersey home the next day, he continued to assert the killing was in self-defense. It was at his 2011 trial, which ended in a mistrial, that Robinson said the death was an accident during sex.
In her closing argument, Kermani said that much of what Robinson said in his statements and on the stand were lies. The killing came during a robbery gone bad.
“He stole every item of value in that room,” she said. “If this was an accident, like he wants you to believe, the defendant wouldn’t have stolen anything.”
Mercado’s bank statement, which Kermani displayed for the jury, showed he withdrew $280 dollars from his bank account that evening. According to Robinson, Mercado spent $140 on cocaine, bought drinks, and paid for the cab ride to his apartment.
“The cash didn’t get up and walk out of his wallet on its own,” Kermani said. “The evidence strongly suggests that Edgard caught the defendant stealing... He was caught, and that’s when the defendant formed the intent to kill.”
The prosecution’s main witness, Dr. Jason Graham, a deputy chief medical examiner in the city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), testified that Mercado had a small bruise on each hand, multiple hemorrhages in the soft tissue of his neck, small hemorrhages called petechiae in his eyes and on his face, fractures of his voice box and the hyoid bone in his neck, ligature abrasions and bruising that encircled his neck, and bruising and scrapes on his face.
“Taken together, this indicates a great deal of motion and I think would be highly consistent with a struggle,” Graham said.
Stephanie Kaplan, one of two Legal Aid Society attorneys who are representing Robinson, asked the jury to convict her client on criminally negligent homicide.
“Davawn killed someone,” Kaplan said. “He took someone’s life... and you should convict him.”
Mercado’s “death was a result of a sexual tragedy,” said Kaplan, who told the jurors that the defendant’s testimony was truthful.
“His testimony is evidence you can rely on,” Kaplan said. “His testimony is reasonable doubt.”
Kaplan pointed to police and OCME reports that described the apartment as showing no evidence of a struggle and what she said was the lack of injuries on Mercado’s body indicating he had been in a fight.
“Nothing’s disturbed, nothing’s out of place,” Kaplan said of the apartment and added, “If this was an unwanted ligature around his neck, he would have fought for his life.”
In contrast to the first trial, the defense made Mercado more of an issue. Kaplan noted his struggles with alcohol and drugs, a tattoo on his back that Kaplan said suggested he enjoyed pain, and an earlier encounter with a man she said was “rough trade.” These behaviors revealed the “more troubling aspects of his personality,” she said. The rope that killed Mercado was part of a uniform he wore during a Brazilian dance class, and the only evidence at trial that suggested he enjoyed sadomasochism of any type was Robinson’s testimony, but Kaplan said her client was a novice, at best, on that score.
“Davawn was a bondage virgin,” she said. “He didn’t know what to do... Please don’t think I’m trying to blame Edgard.”
Kaplan added later that her client was following Mercado’s lead when he strangled him.
“In fairness, there was a degree of reliance on Edgard,” Kaplan said.