New Jersey 4 Update: Another Retrial, One Reduced Sentence

freethenj4The highest court in  New York State (the Court of Appeals) decided to give New Jersey 4 Defendent Venice Brown a new trial, and reduced the sentence of Patreese Johnson from 13 to 8 years.

For Brown, the court decided “The evidence of defendant Brown’s participation in the crime is substantially similar to the evidence received at the same trial against codefendant Renata Hill. Accordingly, for the reasons stated in our prior decision (People v Hill, 52 AD3d 380 [2008]), we conclude that the verdict as to Brown was based on legally sufficient evidence and was not against the weight of the evidence, but that Brown is entitled to a new trial on the gang assault charge because of the charging errors discussed in Hill.” Essentially the circumstances surrounding Renata Hill’s getting a new trial a few months back the court felt were applicable to Hill’s case.

The judge felt that Johnson–as the person accused of stabbing that dude– did not present a solid legal argument for a new trial:

“Defendant Johnson, who personally stabbed the victim, challenges the sufficiency of the evidence establishing the element of serious physical injury. That claim is unpreserved and we decline to review it in the interest of justice. As an alternative holding, we also reject it on the merits. Even without the aid of expert testimony, the jury could have readily inferred from the victim’s testimony and medical records that his stab wounds to his liver and stomach were life-threatening (see e.g. People v Jones, 38 AD3d 352 [2007], lv denied 9 NY3d 846 [2007]). Johnson’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim relating to this issue is likewise without merit.

We find Johnson’s sentence excessive to the extent indicated.”

WHO ARE THE NEW JERSEY 4???

In the summer of 2006, seven young Black lesbians from New Jersey—Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Chenese Loyal, Lania Daniels, and Khamysha Coates—were hanging out on the pier in New York City’s West Village when Dwayne Buckle, a man selling DVDs on the street, sexually propositioned Patreese. Refusing to take no for an answer, he followed them down the street, insulting and threatening them: “I’ll **** you straight, sweetheart!”

It is important to understand that all seven women knew of another young woman named Sakia Gunn, who had been stabbed to death under very similar circumstances—by a pair of highly aggressive, verbally abusive male strangers. At least some of the seven had known Sakia personally.

During the resulting confrontation, Buckle first spat in Renata’s face and threw his lit cigarette at her, then he yanked another’s hair, pulling her towards him, and then began strangling Renata. A fight broke out, during which Patreese Johnson, 4 feet 11 inches tall and 95 pounds, produced a small knife from her bag to stop Buckle from choking her friend—a knife she carried to protect herself when she came home alone from her late-night job.

Two male onlookers, one of whom had a knife, ran over to physically deal with Buckle in order to help the women. Buckle, who ended up hospitalized for five days with stomach and liver lacerations, initially reported on at least two occasions that the men—not the women—had attacked him. What’s more, Patreese’s knife was never tested for DNA, the men who beat Buckle were never questioned by police, and the whole incident was captured on surveillance video. Yet the women ended up on trial for attempted murder. Dwayne Buckle testified against them.

The media coverage was savage, calling the women such things as a “wolf pack of lesbians.” The pro bono lawyers for the young lesbians would later have to buy the public record of the case since the judge, Edward J. McLaughlin (who openly taunted and expressed contempt for the women in front of the jury all throughout the trial), would not release it. As of late August 2007, the defense team still didn’t have a copy of the security camera video footage. And after the better part of one year spent sitting in jail, four of the seven women were sentenced in June 2007—reportedly by an all-white jury of mostly women—to jail terms ranging from 3 1/2 to 11 years. The oldest of the women was 24, and two of them are mothers of small children.

To find out how to donate money to their legal defense or send  money or books to Johnson, visit Free The New Jersey 4!

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