The New York State Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday in Manhattan in the case of a Mexican-American gang member convicted of terror crimes. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
In August 2002, Edgar Morales and members of his gang, the St. James Boys, got into a dispute with rival gang members near St. James Park in the Bronx. Morales allegedly fired five shots from a handgun, killing a 10-year-old girl and paralyzing another man.
Convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder, Morales' acts were designated as crimes of terrorism under a new state law that was enacted six days after Sept. 11, 2001.
"It is clear that this was animated by the 9/11 attacks," said Catherine Amirfar, Morales' attorney.
Amirfar argued that the enhanced penalties Morales faces under the terrorism statute are unwarranted.
"The terrorism here has to be directed at not just, say, the intended victims," she said. "It has to be intended at a broader group. It has to have the objective purpose of intimidating some kind of broader group."
The attorney representing the state claimed this was part of a broader intimidation of the Mexican-American community in that part of the Bronx. But the Court of Appeals judges didn't seem to be buying it.
"If the intention was to get at the person in the other gang, how does it become terrorism?" said Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.
"You have to step back and look at the entire problem," said Bronx Chief Appellate Attorney Peter D. Coddington. "This gang stopped everybody who came in, everybody who was menacing them, who came in to St. James Park."
The judges picked apart the prosecutor's argument.
"You equate them with Timothy McVeigh?" one judge asked.
"In one sense, yes," Coddington said. "I mean, the crimes are entirely different but, I mean, yes."
Morales faces 40 years to life. His sentence could be downgraded if terror charges are dropped. A decision by the court is expected next month.
Just to give a sense of proportion, of the roughly 4 million cases in the court system each year, the Appellate Division just below the Court of Appeals only hears about 15,000. The Court of Appeals only hears about 200 to 250 per year.