Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Anti-Gay, Anti-Latino Murder Trial in Brooklyn; Assailants “Didn’t Like the Way They Looked”

José Sucuzhañay

Brooklyn, New York – After a year and a half, a murdered Ecuadoran immigrant mistaken as gay may get some justice.  José Sucuzhañay, 31, a native of Ecuador with a real estate brokerage in New York, was savagely dispatched with a beer bottle, kicks and stomps, and an aluminum baseball bat, according to testimony reported by media throughout the Five Boroughs of New York.  The trials of Hakim Scott, 26, and Keith Phoenix, 30,  got underway in Brooklyn Supreme Court on April 10 for the 2008 murder of Sucuzhañay. Charges against the pair include second-degree murder, manslaughter, assault, and murder as a hate crime.  If  convicted, the alleged killers could face sentences of 78-years-to-life imprisonment. The defendants are being tried simultaneously before separate juries in a precisely choreographed judicial drama.  At times, both juries are seated to hear the same  testimony.  At other times, dictated by the presentation of evidence, only one jury is present in the courtroom.  As reported by the New York Times, José Sucuzhañay and his brother, Romel, visiting from Ecuador, were attacked at 3  a.m. on December 7, 2008 in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn because Scott and Phoenix “didn’t like the way they looked.”  Prosecutor Josh Hanshaft, referring to Phoenix who allegedly wielded the bat, told the juries, “He didn’t like that they were Hispanic. From his eyes, it appeared they were a gay couple, a way of life he didn’t like and wasn’t going to tolerate.”  In reality, both men were heterosexual.  The Latino brothers had been drinking at parties in the neighborhood and were tipsy enough that they uninhibitedly hugged each other for support and warmth on a bitterly old night as they walked along.  The attackers, who had also been partying that night, set upon them, yelling “faggot ass niggers” and “fucking Spanish,”  from Phoenix’s red SUV.  The prosecution believe that both assailants acted in concert to effect their victim’s death. Scott, Hanshaft said, emerged from the auto and smashed a beer bottle over José’s head.  He then charged Romel with the deadly shards of broken glass, slashing at his neck. Phoenix took the bat, swinging it “high above his head,”  and struck Sucuzhañay “over and over and over again,” Hanshaft said. “He came back with the bat and hit him two to three times on the head, cracking his skull wide open.”  A Brooklyn cabbie at the scene witnessed the attack well enough to capture the license plate of the red SUV, but then had to cover his eyes with his hands, unable to watch the coup de grâce delivered by Phoenix.  As reported by Chelsea Now, taxi driver Davi Almonte, speaking through an interpreter, told the court, “I didn’t want to see the head explode when it was hit. I could hear the impact [of the bat crushing his skull].”  According to NY1, in testimony on the trial’s second day, Demetrius Nathaniels, cousin of Keith Phoenix, heard the bones cracking as Phoenix bludgeoned Sucuzhañay with the bat on his head, back, side and ribs.  A coroner’s report confirmed that José died of a fractured skull from blunt force trauma.  Romel, only superficially injured by Scott’s assault, was left stunned, nearly catatonic by the body of his brother who lay in a massive pool of blood, and had to be led away by police responding to the alarm raised by witnesses.  The alleged killers sped from the scene. A toll booth video capture of the red SUV on the Triborough Bridge clearly shows Phoenix laughing and smiling barely 19 minutes after the fatal attack.  Sucuzhañay was left brain dead, and placed on a ventilator at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens where he finally succumbed on December 12. An outpouring of grief and rage followed news of the murder, both in New York and in Sucuzhañay’s native Ecuador where the slain immigrant was given a near-state funeral attended by hundreds.  New York Gay and Latino advocacy groups organized protests and vigils, while city officials roundly condemned the brutal killing. Philip J. Smallman, attorney for Phoenix, summed up the consensus of all concerned with events of December 7: “Does anything good happen at 3 o’clock on a Sunday morning in 30-degree weather, with people with bellies full of booze?” he asked.  The Brooklyn trial is expected to last for a number of weeks.

April 28, 2010 - Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, Brooklyn, Ecuador, funerals, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latinos, Law and Order, Mistaken as LGBT, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Racism, Slurs and epithets, Stomping and Kicking Violence | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Interesting story, can your organization please come to Phoenix, Arizona and see what is going on here with the passing of SB 1070and see the racism that this bill will cause along with other problems? It isn’t right that people profile you because of they country you are from or if you are gay.

    Comment by Jose | April 28, 2010

    • Keep us posted on the injustices in your state, Jose.

      Comment by unfinishedlives | April 28, 2010

  2. […] resistant to investigate crimes against gay men as bias-motivated.  The 2008 Brooklyn murder of José Sucuzhañay serves as an eerily familiar backdrop to the current Dallas attack on Kyle Steven Wear and his […]

    Pingback by Ball Bat Attackers Immune from Hate Crimes Charges?: Authorities Backpedal on Anti-Gay Violence « Unfinished Lives | May 17, 2010

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