Hate Crime Murder: Attacker Thought Beating Victim Was Gay

Keith Phoenix (NYC Police Department)
Keith Phoenix (NYC Police Department)

NEW YORK (CBS/AP) A New York City man accused of committing murder as a hate crime when he mistook two brothers for a homosexual couple has been found guilty after seven hours of jury deliberations.

Keith Phoenix, 30, was convicted in a retrial Monday in the Dec. 7, 2008 baseball bat beating death of Ecuadoran immigrant Jose Sucuzhanay, and convicted of attempted assault as a hate crime, for also attacking the murder victim's brother, Romel Sucuzhanay.

Jose and Romel were walking home from a bar after a party at a Brooklyn church, and Romel put a coat around his brother, who was drunk, to shield him from the cold. That's when Phoenix and Hakim Scott, 26, pulled up in a sport utility vehicle. According to Assistant District Attorney Josh Hanshaft, the two began yelling anti-Hispanic and anti-gay slurs at the brothers.

Jose became upset and attempted to kick the wheel of the SUV. Scott got out and cracked a beer bottle on Jose's head, then chased Romel down the street, according to trial testimony. Phoenix took an aluminum bat from the rear of the SUV and attacked Jose, fracturing his skull, according to testimony.

Both Scott and Phoenix fled the scene, but approximately 20 minutes later they were caught on surveillance footage on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, heading into the Bronx smiling -- which prosecutors made note of in their closing arguments Monday.

Keith Phoenix's first trial ended in a mistrial on May 11 when a juror refused to deliberate. He faces 25 years to life in prison, with sentencing set for Aug. 5.

The jury found Hakim Scott guilty of manslaughter in May, but he was not charged with a hate crime. He could get up to 25 years in prison.