NEW YORK, DEC. 6 -- A Bensonhurst defendant whose first murder trial ended with a hung jury was acquitted today of murder and manslaughter in the racially motivated slaying of a black youth.
John Vento, 22, was found guilty only of riot. As the verdict was read, he banged his hands on the defense table and cried, "Yes, yes, yes!'
In July, a jury convicted Vento of unlawful imprisonment and menacing, but acquitted him of the most serious charge he faced, intentional murder. The panel deadlocked on riot and a second murder count. A few weeks later, he was also indicted on second-degree manslaughter. He is serving a sentence of up to eight years in prison for the convictions.
Prosecutors described Vento as a major participant in the Aug. 23, 1989, slaying of Yusuf Hawkins in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Hawkins, 16, was in the predominantly white neighborhood to look at a used car. He was cornered by a gang of whites and shot in the chest.
Defense attorney Gerald J. DiChiara portrayed Vento as drawn into what he thought would be a brawl to defend his neighborhood and his friends. He argued that Joseph Fama, who has been convicted of murder in the case, acted alone.
Prosecutors maintained that in helping Fama corner and shoot Hawkins, Vento was equally guilty of murder.
In the weeks after the shooting, Vento agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for immunity and appeared before a grand jury, but he backed out of the deal and fled the city after threats against his family, DeChiara said. Vento surrendered in Ohio, but opted to face trial rather than resume cooperation.
Three other defendants are scheduled to stand trial early next year for their alleged roles in the slaying.