Abel Cedeno, 18, the bullied Bronx gay teen who says he was acting in self-defense against an assault in class on September 27 when he killed Matthew McCree, 15, and wounded Ariane Laboy, 16, with a knife that he had recently bought for protection, appeared in Bronx Criminal Court on November 15 and pleaded “not guilty” to charges of manslaughter, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon.
Cedeno attorney Christopher R. Lynn acknowledged that his client had a knife, but said that he suffered “an extreme emotional disturbance” under the pressure of relentless bullying that he had endured since the sixth grade. While much has been made of the fact that Cedeno had not been bullied by McCree and Laboy before, Cedeno told Gay City News that he knew they had recently assaulted his friend Brandon, knew them to be members of an armed gang, and was sure he was “going to die” when they attacked him in class.
Lynn charged that McCree and Laboy were part of the 800 YGZ (for “young gunners”) gang that terrorizes the neighborhood and specializes in robbing people of their cell phones for profit. He said that McCree has older male family members who are also part of the gang.
At an October 30 City Council hearing on school bullying, McCree family attorney Sanford Rubenstein said he was unaware whether McCree had gang involvement and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña would not comment pending a Department of Education investigation of the school.
Lynn took exception to the characterization of McCree and Laboy as “victims” by the district attorney since it was they, he contends, who attacked Cedeno.
“He was pummeled before he took any action,” Lynn’s co-counsel Robert Feldman said after the proceeding. They ran up to him thinking Abel Cedeno was too much of a ‘sissy’ to do anything.”
According to Cedeno, McCree saw that he was displaying a knife to defend himself and attacked him anyway — despite another student trying to hold McCree back. Laboy, Cedeno said, joined in the attack on him.
“I never intended to hurt anyone,” Cedeno told Gay City News earlier.
The courtroom was packed with the family and supporters of both Cedeno and McCree, whose family is suing the city for $25 million for failing to install metal detectors in Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation or to enforce the state anti-bullying law — the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). Attorney Rubenstein is now also seeking the dismissal of Fariña, who has launched an enhanced anti-bullying campaign for the schools in the wake of this case.
Since September 27, 30 students from Urban Assembly have been granted safety transfers from what has become known as “the zoo school” not just for its focus on conservation, but for its chaotic atmosphere. The district attorney’s office emphasizes that the incident “traumatized” those in the classroom who witnessed it, but Department of Education surveys showed that students and teachers there regarded the school as an unsafe environment long before the Cedeno-McCree incident.
“Nobody had the kids under control,” McCree’s brother told the Daily News.
Another student at the school attempted suicide in February due to incessant bullying.
The case is being heard by Judge William I. Mogulescu, who has been serving on the Bronx Supreme Court bench since 1998.
Cedeno, according to the judge, may be entitled to “youthful offender” status since he has no prior record — in which case he is not facing 50 years for two B-class felonies but five years.
Lynn said they will argue that Cedeno was acting in self-defense. He added that he will seek to have witnesses in the case, which resumes November 29, testify in a closed courtroom “because there is a conspiracy to silence the classroom eyewitnesses” by friends of McCree, many of whom, he said, are also gang members.
“The teachers from the classroom are on administrative leave and lawyered up and not talking to anybody,” Lynn said.
Bail in the case was originally set at $500,000, but Cedeno’s attorneys are arguing that it be lowered. They are endeavoring to raise the necessary bond and are getting close with pledges not just from people in the LGBTQ community but, according to Lynn, also from State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. and his Pentecostal congregation. Diaz, who has a long record of opposition to LGBTQ rights, has taken a keen interest in aiding Cedeno’s family. Cedeno’s mother, Luz Hernandez, is from the same part of Puerto Rico that Diaz is and met with him after her son’s arrest to seek his help.
Hernandez met with school authorities several times to get them to stop the bullying of her son, “but they said, ‘Ignore it and be a better person,’” she said outside the courtroom.
McCree’s mother, Louna Dennis, said, “If Abel Cedeno was being bullied, I feel sorry, I’m sorry for him, but he was not being bullied by my boy.”
The only thing both families agree on is that the schools failed their children.
©2017 Community News Group