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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Prosecutor: NY man beat immigrant ‘over and over’

NEW YORK — A man charged with beating an Ecuadorian immigrant to death and assaulting his brother attacked the brothers on a Brooklyn street because “he didn’t like what they looked like,” a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder as a hate crime and assault in the death of Jose Sucuzhanay and the beating of his brother, Romel. Phoenix said he acted in self-defense because it appeared Jose Sucuzhanay was reaching for a gun.

The brothers were walking home from a bar after a party in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn Dec. 7, 2008. Romel Sucuzhanay had put his coat around his brother to keep him warm, and they were huddled together as they walked.

Phoenix and Scott, also leaving a party, pulled up in an SUV and got into a fight with the brothers, authorities said.

Scott smashed a beer bottle over Jose’s head and chased Romel with it, while Phoenix beat Jose “over and over again” with an aluminum bat, Hanshaft, a prosecutor, said, while the men shouted anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs.

Jose Sucuzhanay went into a coma and died several days later as his mother was en route from Ecuador to see him. He was buried in Ecuador.

After the attack, hundreds of people demonstrated in Brooklyn. Officials in Ecuador monitored the investigation and discussed urging the U.S. Congress to back a campaign of anti-bias education.

The brothers were attacked because Phoenix “didn’t like what they looked like,” Hanshaft said. “He didn’t like that they were Hispanic. From his eye, it appeared they were a gay couple — a way of life he didn’t like and wasn’t going to tolerate.”

The two men are being tried separately. Phoenix’s attorney, Philip Smallman, asked jurors to keep an open mind.

“Does anything good happen at 3 a.m., in 30-degree weather, with people with bellies full of booze? No,” Smallman said.

Scott’s attorney, Craig Newman, said Scott wasn’t guilty of a hate crime and didn’t intend to hurt anyone.

“It was never about hate, never about prejudice,” Newman said.

The attack came about a month after another Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, was stabbed to death in Patchogue, N.Y. Jeffrey Conroy, 19, was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime in that case Monday.

Conroy was one of seven teenagers implicated in the November 2008 stabbing, a death that prosecutors said was the culmination of a campaign of violence targeting Hispanics on Long Island. The teens described the activity as “beaner-hopping” or “Mexican hopping.”

Four other defendants have pleaded guilty to hate crime-related charges in the Lucero case, and two others are awaiting trial.

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