NEW YORK, JAN. 22 -- Saying that 18-year-old Jon Lester had shown "no remorse" for the death of a black man in Howard Beach, a Queens judge today sentenced Lester to a 30-year prison term for manslaughter and assault.
Lester, the first of three white teen-agers to be sentenced in the case, must serve at least 10 years under the sentence, the toughest he could have received under state law.
In imposing sentence, State Supreme Court Justice Thomas A. Demakos said: "What kind of an individual do I have before me that after witnessing a young black man get crushed to death by a car, continues by savagely beating another black man with a bat?"
Although he said Lester's guilt "is not a conviction of the community of Howard Beach," Demakos said he was troubled that none of the 1,500 letters he received on Lester's behalf from people in the Queens neighborhood expressed remorse about Michael Griffith's death. "The community itself is to blame for refusing to recognize that it was a racial incident that triggered this off," Demakos said.
Lester, wearing a brown leather jacket, remained impassive. But his family and friends, who filled the left side of the courtroom, applauded Lester as court officers led him away, then shouted angrily at the judge and special state prosecutor Charles J. Hynes. "Justice is dead!" some shouted, while others yelled "Murderer!" at Hynes.
Simultaneously, a group of black spectators sitting near Jean Griffith, the victim's mother, greeted the sentence with applause and exclamations of "Good!" and "Beautiful!"
Scott Kern, 18, and Jason Ladone, 17, who were convicted with Lester last month in the racially charged case, will be sentenced in February. The three were convicted of first-degree manslaughter for chasing Griffith to the Belt Parkway, where he was killed by car on Dec. 20, 1986. The whites were shouting at the "niggers" to get "out of the neighborhood."
The three defendants, who were acquitted of second-degree murder, were also convicted of first-degree assault in the beating of one of Griffith's two companions, Cedric Sandiford. A fourth defendant, Michael Pirone, was acquitted of all charges.
Demakos sentenced Lester to two consecutive 15-year sentences for manslaughter and assault, saying that Lester had committed "two separate and distinct crimes." He said an additional one-year term for conspiracy will run concurrently with the longer sentences.
The judge repeatedly referred to "the savagery" of Sandiford's beating and said that Lester, out of "hatred," led the baseball-bat attack, even after seeing Griffith's lifeless body on the highway. "He shows no remorse, no sense of guilt, no shame," Demakos said.
Griffith, Sandiford and a companion, whose car had broken down in Howard Beach, were attacked "just because they were black," Demakos said. "No ifs, ands or buts about it -- it was a racial incident."
Lester already has served nearly a year in jail on an unrelated charge of illegally possessing a handgun. State prison officials said in a memo that in a Jan. 4 incident at Downstate Correctional Facility, Lester "charged at" a black jail guard, shouted racial slurs and threatened "to kill him." Lester's attorney, Bryan Levinson, disputed the account.
Bryan Levinson, Lester's attorney, told the judge that Lester's actions in the Howard Beach incident were reckless but unintentional. In urging leniency, he noted that Demakos "was under tremendous pressure in the case" and that some of Lester's enemies "would rather have a scaffold built on Queens Boulevard and see him hung."
Levinson said the sentence may have been influenced by fears that if the defendants "don't get the maximum punishment, there will be riots in the streets."
Hynes had recommended the maximum 30-year sentence, saying that the judge should "send a very clear message that something like this cannot be tolerated."