Steve Browne

In September Abel Cedeno will be sentenced for the killing of one Matthew McCree, 15, and wounding of Arane Leboy, then 16, in 2017, at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx.

Cedeno, then 17, claimed self-defense and that he had been the target of bullying since he was in sixth grade because he is gay. He claimed he was trying to leave when he was pinned to the wall and punched by McCree and others when he pulled a knife and defended himself.

There is a video which appears to support his claim.

There was also testimony from a teacher who said McCree, “pushed me aside, hell-bent on getting at Abel.”

Cedeno said he had complained to teachers and administration, who did nothing. And that he had requested transfer to another school and was ignored.

The judge at a bench trial Cedeno dismissed claims of self-defense and convicted him of first-degree manslaughter, first-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The school closed in 2018, not specifically because of the case but it can’t have helped. The school tried “to nudge kids in the direction of careers in science by getting them outside exploring the world” by taking kids to zoos, aquariums, parks, etc.

Sounds great. Evidently not so great in practice after a no-nonsense dean with a strict approach to discipline was replaced in 2014 by a progressive educator who lowered official discipline rates by simply not enforcing rules, with predictable results.

This case received a lot of attention in New York but not much anywhere else. Perhaps it does not fit a narrative. The accused is Hispanic and gay, the victims are black. That’s the kind of thing that causes discomfort, not righteous outrage. We don’t know who to side with because there is no obvious oppressor-oppressed scenario.

Some call McCree a vile thug, others say he was a nice guy who just happened to shove a teacher aside to pin a kid to the wall and start punching him all in the spirit of fun.

For what it’s worth, I think this was very likely a legitimate case of self-defense. Carrying a weapon to school makes Cedeno technically guilty of the weapons charge but is mitigated by circumstances.

Self-defense is legally a very dicey proposition for a number of reasons. It’s an affirmative defense, meaning your are admitting to a normally illegal act thus waiving your right against self-incrimination.

Attitudes towards self-defense vary from place to place in both the minds of the prosecutors and potential jurors. They vary from, “OK he had it coming,” to, “Anyone who kills someone must do time.”

Add to that the visceral horror many have of knives.

So to make the defense fly you really have to have your ducks in a row.

When I commented on this case among friends who work in the violence professions I found that a friend of mine, a private detective in New York I’ve done some investigative work for, was aware of the case and had volunteered to help the defense.

He volunteered to help pro bono, because they don’t have much money, and bring in another mutual friend who is a court certified witness in cases involving knives who also offered to help pro bono.

“Do you still support Trump?” they asked.

“Well I think he does some stupid things but on balance yes,” he replied.

“We don’t want help from any Trump supporter.”

Are we nuts? Is this what it’s come to?

Load comments