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Hamilton Heights bodega worker charged with murder after stabbing man who attacked him behind counter

Many come to defense of bodega worker accused of murdering man who went around counter
Many come to defense of bodega worker accused of murdering man who went around counter 03:04

NEW YORK -- A Hamilton Heights bodega worker is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly stabbing a man to death after the man confronted and pushed him behind the counter. 

But many, including Mayor Eric Adams, are defending the worker's actions as self-defense, CBS2's Ali Bauman reported Thursday. 

The 51-year-old deli clerk is accused of stabbing and killing 37-year-old Austin Simon, but the surveillance video is not so black and white. Adams said it shows the suspect was doing his job when the victim approached him inappropriately. 

Video shows Simon push the clerk behind the bodega counter and then stand over him. Moments later, a struggle ensues. The two wrestle and the clerk stabs Simon multiple times.

"It's obvious this gentleman was here working, providing for his family, and someone came behind the counter and what I viewed was inappropriate," Adams said.

"He grabbed him by the neck to drag him out. The first thing, you fear for your life so you're gonna do whatever, so you're gonna do whatever is possible to defend yourself," said Francisco Marte of the Bodega and Small Business Association.

It happened late Friday night in the Blue Moon Convenience Store off West 140th Street. Police were called for an assault in progress and found Simon bleeding from two stab wounds in his chest and one in his neck. Simon later died at the hospital. 

Police arrested the clerk, 51-year-old Jose Alba, for second-degree murder.

At Alba's arraignment, the district attorney's office claimed it started when the victim's girlfriend was trying to buy a snack from the deli clerk with her daughter, but her card was declined. Prosecutors said the clerk then took the snack back from the child and they left.

Minutes later, Simon walked in and "went behind the counter of the store and confronted the clerk."

Prosecutors claim Simon pushed the clerk "and attempted to steer [the defendant] out of the area behind the counter, but [the defendant] picked up a kitchen knife that was stashed behind the counter" and stabbed the victim multiple times. 

City Councilman Robert Holden showed support for the suspect. On Twitter, he wrote, "Career criminals are let right out of jail without bail, while a store clerk who apparently acted in self defense is on Rikers Island."

"What I saw on the video was a New Yorker that was doing his job, and that disruption of the job happened because someone was aggressive," Adams said.

Marte said that lately deli workers have been more concerned for their safety.

"We have huge safety problems. A lot of bodegas been robbed, beat up," Marte said.

CBS2 has learned the district attorney's office and defense council together requested the suspect's bail be reduced from $250,000 to $50,000, which the judge granted. 

Prosecutors said Alba will be released after posting partial bond and surrendering his passport. He's due back in court later in July.

CBS2 was there as Alba returned home from Rikers Island.

The DA's office says even before the public outcry it had been working on a new bail package, "that would be the least restrictive alternative to assure his return to court on this serious matter."

"The DA will have to disprove, effectively prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this defendant was not acting in self-defense," criminal attorney Dmitriy Shakhnevich said.

Shakhnevich said thanks to the video, prosecutors will likely have a tough time proving their case.

"The law says you have to retreat. In this particular case, he couldn't really do that," Shakhnevich said. 

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