A man charged with fatally stabbing a 15-year-old because she was a lesbian has pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in a deal with prosecutors that will likely get him a prison sentence of 25 years or less. Richard McCullough had been charged with bias murder in the May 2003 killing of Sakia Gunn.
That charge was dropped in exchange for Thursday's plea, which he seemed reluctant at first to give. "I stood in a defensive stance with my knife in my hand, and she lunged at me," McCullough told superior court judge Paul Vichness. The judge did not accept that explanation. He threatened to reject the plea and order that the case be sent to a jury trial, where McCullough could have been sentenced to prison for 118 years had he been found guilty on all the charges he faced. It was then that McCullough, 30, said he slashed Gunn. McCullough also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and bias intimidation.
Gunn and four other girls were waiting for a bus at 3:30 a.m. in downtown Newark, N.J., after a night in New York's Greenwich Village when McCullough and another man drove up and asked them if they wanted to go to a party. Officials say the girls responded that they were lesbians and were uninterested. The men began spewing homophobic insults, and then a physical fight began, authorities said. Gunn was stabbed as she came to the defense of a friend.
The case galvanized the previously quiet gay and lesbian population in New Jersey's biggest city and led to a debate about bias crime laws. McCullough's lawyer at one point challenged the constitutionality of the state's 24-year-old statute, which gives stiffer penalties to people convicted of committing crimes
because they don't like a victim's race, sexual orientation, or nationality. Vichness said he would sentence McCullough on April 21, most likely to a prison term between 20 and 25 years. He would have to serve 85% of of his sentence before being eligible for parole.