The jury is still out on whether Lemrick Nelson Jr. violated the civil rights of Yankel Rosenbaum during the Crown Heights riots.
The panel at Brooklyn Federal Court spent its third day considering the case today after being charged late Wednesday to decide whether hatred of Jews was the motive when Nelson stabbed Rosenbaum in August 1991.
After denying any role in the attack, Nelson, now 27, no longer contests that he is the assailant.
On Thursday, the jurors asked Judge Frederic Block to allow them to examine the knife Nelson was carrying when he was arrested. DNA testing concluded that blood on the knife and on Nelson’s pants that night likely came from Rosenbaum.
Prosecutors said during the eight-day trial that Nelson had to press a button on the knife to close it, which he did while fleeing the scene: a feat that might have been difficult if he had been as intoxicated as defense lawyers claim while taking part in the attack.
Nelson’s lawyers, Peter Quijano and Richard Jasper, claim he was young and naive, had a "beer buzz" and was caught up in a mob mentality at the time of the murder. They said Nelson did not act to deprive Rosenbaum of his right to use a public street because of Rosenbaum’s religion.
Prosecutor Lauren Resnick in her final statements to the jury Wednesday called that argument a "young, drunk and stupid" defense, and cited Nelson’s previous denials that he committed the crime.
"You can’t believe anything Lemrick Nelson says," said Resnick.
The jurors also asked to examine transcripts of testimony from several government witnesses, including the officer who arrested Nelson, the defendant’s former girlfriend, and a Crown Heights resident who said he took part of the disturbances on the night Rosenbaum was killed.
The volume of material requested made a verdict unlikely before the weekend, since much of the material was not made available until late Thursday afternoon.
On Friday, lawyers, prosecutors, reporters, sketch artists and stenographers killed time in the courtroom reading and talking with spectators and interested parties. Rosenbaum’s brother, Norman, regaled a small crowd with stories of his days as an Australian prosecutor and a discussion of the relative merits of major cities down under.
"The best thing about Sydney is the plane to Melbourne," he said outside the courtroom.
A few feet away, sitting on the same bench, was Nelson’s father, Lemrick Sr., who sat quietly alone, reading an article about the trial in the Daily News, which featured a picture of himself leaving the courthouse the previous day.
The elder Nelson has declined to speak to the media.
Late Thursday afternoon, Councilman James E. Davis, who represents Crown Heights, appeared at the courthouse to call for peace in the community, regardless of the verdict.
After the 1991 rioting, said Davis, "community leaders responded after the fire. Now we respond when we see smoke and the potential for problems."
Also attending the trial at various points were Devorah Halberstam, whose son, Ari, was killed by a terrorist on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994; David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; Michael Danby, the only Jewish member of Australia’s House of Representatives, whose constituents include the Rosenbaum family in Melbourne; Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale; and representatives of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council.