In December 2008, Ecuadorian immigrant Jose Sucuzhañay was walking in Brooklyn with his brother when two men attacked and taunted them with racial and homophobic slurs. While his brother was not seriously injured, Sucuzhañay was knocked unconscious with a broken bottle, and then repeatedly attacked with an aluminum baseball bat. He died soon after being declared brain-dead.
This past Thursday, Keith Phoenix and Hakim Scott were sentenced to 37 years in prison. Phoenix was found guilty of second degree murder and assault as a hate crime, while Scott was convicted of manslaughter and assault but acquitted of murder and hate crime charges.
Phoenix and Scott blamed their actions on alcohol and claimed they were not hateful, but Judge Patricia DiMango held no sympathy. “It is beyond the comprehenson of any civilized individual to think that for any reason at all that another person motivated by … the sport of it, would take another human being’s life in such a cruel and wanton manner,” she told them.
After the sentencing, Sucuzhañay’s mother Julia Quintuna stated through an interpreter, “This is a very sad day. It’s sad for my family and for the family of the defendants. I feel very sorry for the defendants, and of course there is a huge emptiness in my heart because of my son.” She revealed that he leaves behind two young children.
Sucuzhañay’s brother Diego moved back to Ecuador soon after his brother’s death, and would not comment on the sentencing because the trial brought back too many painful memories. However he did announce that his family was creating the Sucuzhañay Foundation, “to create and fundraise and help the [New York City Police Department] with compensation, rewards for information that can help capture those responsible for those attacks motivated by hatred.” In addition the foundation aims to provide economic assistance to victims of hate crimes and their families.
This verdict comes several months after the trial of another high-profile hate crime in New York involving the brutal murder of another Ecuadorian immigrant, resulting in the eighteen-year-old murderer being convicted of manslaughter.