Almost a year and a half after a classroom fracas in the Bronx that left one boy dead, another slashed, and a third charged with manslaughter, the trial of Abel Cedeno, the gay teen who is claiming self-defense, is on the verge of getting underway after what should be final pre-trial motions that will be ruled on February 25.
The incident on September 27, 2017, in front of horrified classmates and two teachers at the now-shuttered Wildlife Conservation High School led the Bronx district attorney to seek a second-degree murder charge but that was cut to manslaughter by the grand jury. Cedeno has been out on bail since Nov. 29, 2017.
The District Attorney’s Office, headed by Darcel Clark, is fighting the release of the names of the 25 student witnesses to defense attorneys Christopher R. Lynn and Robert J. Feldman — an issue that will be contested on February 25. Assistant District Attorney Nancy Borko was said by Lynn to have interviewed seven of the witnesses but won’t provide them to the defense.
Borko has also been delaying the start of the trial much to the consternation of both the defense and Louna Dennis, the mother of Matthew McCree who died in the fight. Dennis is suing the city and Cedeno for $25 million for the wrongful death of her son, contending that the school should have had metal detectors and that the city and state anti-bullying laws were not being enforced by the school. Ariane Laboy, the student slashed in the fight, is also suing the city and Cedeno.
It is Cedeno’s contention that he had been bullied since the sixth grade for being gay and that when it intensified that September day he snapped, pulling out a knife he had started to carry for protection and using it to defend himself from a pummeling by McCree and Laboy.
While Cedeno had apparently not had a run-in with McCree or Laboy before, he has said he knew of their gang connections and feared for his life when they attacked him.
Lynn recently obtained from the DA the February 23, 2018, deposition of Laboy in his lawsuit. In it, Laboy said that when Cedeno challenged his classmates over who was throwing things at his head, “Matthew said, ‘I threw it but I didn’t mean to hurt you.’” Cedeno has testified that McCree stood up and said, “I did it. Whassup, nigger?” meaning, “What are you going to do about it.”
Laboy, who will be a principal witness in the criminal and civil cases, told the city’s lawyer, Abaigeal Van Deerlin, that Cedeno then attacked McCree who “just stood there.” He also asserted Cedeno “ran” across the classroom for “20 seconds” to attack McCree when video of the fight seems to show McCree charging from the back of the class to attack Cedeno who then moved toward McCree. Laboy also said that McCree was “just backing away with his hands up” when the video and forensic evidence that will be introduced show him beating Cedeno about the face.
In coming to McCree’s aid, Laboy acknowledges hitting Cedeno in the face and being cut by Cedeno “on my left arm,” below his left elbow, on his thumb, and twice on his torso. Cedeno, who had no experience using a knife, claims that he was flailing away to defend himself from Laboy’s blows. Laboy said, “His arm was swinging and I was defending myself.”
Laboy said that he went from the front of the classroom to where Cedeno and McCree were fighting “to prevent Abel from stabbing everybody else in the class” — a journey that he says took “30 seconds” and that Cedeno’s attack on McCree took “a minute or two minutes” — all of these objectively preposterous timeframes. Video of the incident shows the fight between McCree and Cedeno lasting about five or six seconds.
Laboy said he had lost functionality in his right arm and that it will “take years” to heal. He also said he “can’t play ball” and “can’t go to regular school” and “can’t write.”
While Cedeno and his mother had complained to his schools repeatedly about the bullying he was subjected to, Laboy said neither he nor his family ever spoke to anyone at the school about his physical safety.
Laboy was asked by Van Deerlin whether he was a member of a gang or had ever heard of a gang “called the 800 gang” or one called “the Young Gunners,” and he said no. But he was confronted with his Facebook pages where his name was “Ant Gambino.” Lynn’s investigators have allegedly documented that this was Laboy’s gang name.
As Gay City News reported earlier, Laboy posted on social media, “First nigga wanna violate matt now he coming for dat man. nigga is buggin not bumping lil tjay no moree.” According to Lynn’s experts on gangs, that translates to “Since Matt was killed I’ve been distraught; now I’m gonna kill [bump] the guy who killed Matt.”
Despite these threats and others from McCree’s half-brother, Kevon Dennis, Cedeno’s defense has been unable to obtain an order of protection for Cedeno and his family members. Lynn said that the DA also did not aggressively pursue criminal charges against Kevon Dennis — whose gang name allegedly was “Unruly Boss” — who had been charged with armed robbery of students of their cell phones immediately after the classroom incident. The judge in the case dropped the charge against Dennis this past October 31 while his co-defendant Jonathan Espinal is still charged.
Van Deerlin asked Laboy’s attorney, Matthew Blitt, to direct Laboy “to preserve everything that’s in your social media account.” Blitt did not respond to a Gay City News request for comment.
Cedeno’s lawyers are seeking a special prosecutor in the case, alleging Clark “took a dive” on the Kevon Dennis case and never charged him with witness tampering.