Lemrick Nelson referred to Yankel Rosenbaum repeatedly as ‘the Jew’ as he confessed to stabbing the chasidic scholar 12 years ago, a former detective testified Thursday.
Edward Brown, who was a homicide investigator at the time of the Crown Heights riots in August 1991, took the stand in the federal retrial of Nelson, who is accused of violating Rosenbaum’s civil rights.
Nelson’s lawyers told the jury in their opening statement that Nelson told police he committed the crime because he was "high" from beer and caught up in the excitement of the mob following a fatal car crash that killed a black child.
Brown, who retired in 1996, confirmed that statement from Nelson. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Resnick asked if Nelson had ever referred to Rosenbaum as "the man" or "the guy" or by any other noun.
"It was ‘the Jew,’" Brown answered. "Just ‘the Jew.’"
Prosecutors must convince the jury that Nelson acted to deprive Rosenbaum of his right to use a public street because of his religion.
Following Brown’s testimony, Medical Examiner Joaquin Gutierrez, in the most graphic testimony of the trial, described the nature of the stab wounds that caused Rosenbaum’s death. There were four wounds, two of which punctured his lungs and caused his chest to compress, starving his brain of oxygen.
Prosecutors convinced Judge Frederic Block to prevent the defense lawyers from asking Gutierrez if Rosenbaum might not have died had one of the wounds not been overlooked by doctors. Defense lawyers suggested that ruling may be the basis of a future appeal if Nelson is convicted.
During the medical examiner’s testimony, Nelson placed his head on the table, and his lawyers called for a break in the trial. Paramedics were called and Nelson was taken to Long Island College Hospital. Nelson’s lawyers later said he had an asthma attack.
Nelson apparently recovered quickly and was back in court within 90 minutes.
Earlier in the week, a Crown Heights man who admitted to being part of the mob that later attacked Rosenbaum offered seemingly conflicting testimony about whether anti-Semitism was involved that night.
Desmond Brereton, 32, said he saw Nelson at the scene of the attack and discussed how the crowd was throwing rocks and bottles and turning over cars. At one point, Brereton said that if someone who appeared Jewish was seen opening a window or door, the home was attacked.
Brereton said he left the scene when he saw Rosenbaum being assailed rather than participate in the crime.
But during cross-examination, defense attorney Peter Quijano asked Brereton, who was about 21 at the time, if the mob intended to "keep the Jews off the sidewalk, keep the Jews off the street." Brereton said no.
Asked if the mob made an effort to determine if the homes and cars they were vandalizing belonged to Jews, Brereton also said no.
Referring to Brereton’s testimony in Nelsonís first federal trial, in 1997, Quijano said the witness had described what he was doing that night as "chilling." Asked to define that term, Brereton said it meant hanging out, looking for something to do.
Brereton said he came to the scene of the fatal accident that touched off the mob to see what was happening, then went home to eat before returning later with some friends because they were bored.
Quijano pointed out that the crowd veered away from Eastern Parkway, where the Lubavitch world headquarters was located, and headed toward an area of Crown Heights that is less Jewish.
In other testimony Wednesday, a third police officer discussed the procedure cops call a "show up," in which a suspect is brought before a victim for identification. Lt. Brian Wilson, who was with Rosenbaum as he lay mortally wounded on the hood of a car, said Rosenbaum tried to rise up when he spotted Nelson, and shouted "Why did you stab me?"
"He was very angry," said Wilson.
The government is expected to rest its case Monday. The defense has indicated it will present only a short case with few witnesses before closing arguments. The case could go before the jury as early as Tuesday.