The man charged with the hate-crime murder of Mark Carson, a gay man gunned down in New York City’s West Village in 2013, told a jury this week that he is bisexual — because, he said, he had an ongoing sexual relationship with a transgender woman.
After rejecting four court-appointed attorneys, Elliot Morales is representing himself against charges of murder as a hate crime and weapons possession in New York State Supreme Court. Since the trial began February 22, several witnesses — including Carson’s best friend, Danny Robinson, who was standing beside Carson when the 32-year-old was shot in the face — have testified that Morales used antigay slurs toward the men before enticing them around a corner and shooting Carson.
But on Wednesday, Morales, 36, took the stand and claimed that he had shot Carson in self-defense, after the pair of black gay men initiated a confrontation.
“They were going to jump me,” Morales told the court, according to The New York Times. “I thought one or maybe both of them had a firearm. So I kind of raised the firearm and turned away and shot it at the same time.”
Morales had previously admitted to drinking heavily on the night of Carson’s murder, and witnesses testified that he had threatened a restaurant worker and used antigay slurs toward a bartender earlier in the evening. “I am not a bigot of any type,” Morales told the court in his opening statement.
But in his testimony Wednesday, Morales said he did not remember using any slurs and said he is in fact bisexual.
Just one day earlier, Morales had presented the court with a transgender woman who said she had a sexual relationship with Morales for nearly a decade, according to the New York Daily News. Speaking from behind a curtain to protect her identity, the witness said that she could not recall any “ill feelings” Morales had expressed toward LGBT people.
“Absolutely not,” the woman said when Morales asked her if she knew him to be biased against “gays,” “bisexuals,” “transsexuals,” or “lesbians.”
When questioned by prosecutor Shannon Lucey, the woman said that she was up-front with Morales about her trans identity and stressed that the two never had a romantic relationship.
“We were never in a relationship. It was a sexual relationship,” the woman told Lucey. “Me and Elliot, we hooked up throughout the years many times.”
While Morales maintains that he fired his gun into the unarmed Carson’s face as a matter of self-defense, Lucey has consistently argued that Morales’s only motive for the shooting was the presumed sexual orientation of his victim.
“Mark Carson was a total stranger to Elliot Morales, and he was killed for no other reason than because he was gay,” Lucey told the jury during opening statements. “No other reason.”
The assistant district attorney reiterated her primary argument in closing statements in court today, adding that Morales’s “self-loathing issues” led him to lash out at a pair of openly gay men.
“[Morales’s own issues are] inside him and they came out when he saw Mark Carson and Danny Robinson be who they are in public,” Lucey said today in court, according to the Daily News. "They're the same at home as they are in public, and the defendant cannot be."
In his tear-filled closing argument, Morales claimed he is a victim of prosecutorial misconduct and argued that he cannot be considered homophobic because he enjoys attending the annual LGBT-heavy Halloween parade in the West Village neighborhood where he fatally shot Carson.
"You just automatically assumed I had to be a heterosexual because I had a gun," Morales said of the prosecutors, according to the Daily News. "Every Halloween I go and I walk that parade with them. I love that parade. I put more into that parade than I do the Puerto Rican parade.”
If convicted of murder as a hate crime, Morales would face a sentence of 20 years to life in prison, reports the Times.