John Vento, a defendant in the killing of Yusuf Hawkins in New York's Bensonhurst neighborhood, was charged with and acquitted of four counts of discrimination. Associated Press reported an incorrect number of counts yesterday. (Published 7/5/90)
NEW YORK, JULY 3 -- A sharply divided jury acquitted a young white man today of intentionally murdering a black teenager in a racial attack in Bensonhurst last August but failed to resolve a second murder count and a riot charge.
In its ninth day of deliberations, the jury convicted John Vento of two counts of unlawful imprisonment and four counts of menacing for his role in the attack that inflamed racial passions in New York City.
Two other young whites have been convicted in the assault on Yusuf Hawkins, 16, shot to death after coming to the predominantly white Brooklyn neighborhood to buy a used car.
Vento, 21, who reneged on an immunity deal to testify against his codefendants, faces a retrial in September on the unresolved charges, including a charge of murder by depraved indifference, prosecutors said.
He could be sentenced to a year and four months to four years on the unlawful imprisonment counts and 90 days on each menacing count. Sentencing is scheduled Aug. 14.
Vento sat silently, flashing an occasional tight smile, as the verdicts were read. He was acquitted of intentional murder, a weapons possession charge, one count of unlawful imprisonment and five counts of discrimination.
"There's a difference between racism, which is not illegal, and discrimination, which is," juror Lee Levin said. Levin, one of two holdouts for a murder conviction, said disagreement on that count involved Vento's mental culpability.
Juror Irwin Ziegler said the deliberations were "not very nice . . . . It was very tense, very emotional, a lot of yelling and screaming."
Vento was the third defendant tried in the attack, and five other Brooklyn youths face trial.
Joseph Fama, 19, whom Vento identified as the triggerman, was convicted of murder in the first trial and sentenced to 32 2/3 years to life. Keith Mondello, 19, received 5 1/3 to 16 years for convictions on lesser charges.
In September, Vento gave a grand jury a graphic account of the attack. He said he watched from several feet away as Fama pulled an automatic pistol and fired into Hawkins's chest.
Last Friday, the mothers of Vento and Hawkins had an emotional meeting at the courthouse in which Maria Vento offered condolences to Diane Hawkins, New York Newsday reported.
The families would not discuss with reporters details of the private meeting. But Hawkins's father, Moses Stewart, said it was "the beginning of the healing process" between blacks and whites in New York.