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Robbery Plot Unfolds in Hate-Crimes Murder Trial

Robbery Plot Unfolds in Hate-Crimes Murder Trial


The 2006 death of Michael Sandy shows how the Internet can abused by predators -- especially those targeting gay men.

Gays are "easy to get." That was what the three men on trial for the murder of Michael Sandy allegedly thought when they planned to lure him for money and marijuana on Oct. 8, 2006.

In a videotaped confession at the Brooklyn supreme court on Sept. 25, one of Sandy's accused murderers, 19-year-old John Fox, told of the planned robbery that got out of hand. The holdup was said to be devised at the house of codefendant Anthony Fortunato along with Ilya Shurov, both age 20.

"I signed on my screen name and...then [Fortunato] proceeded from my screen name to go into the gay chat room and pick out a guy," Fox said in the tape, according to the New York Daily News. "And [Fortunato] was telling us how like it's easy to get [a gay man] once you talk to them. They'll come and meet you, and we were gonna do it for the money."

That night at Plumb Beach on Brooklyn's southern shore, four men were waiting for 28-year-old Sandy, an interior designer for Ikea, who lived in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

Plumb Beach, which runs parallel to the Belt Parkway, is a well-known location for cruising and trysts.

The prosecution's leading witness, 17-year-old Gary Timmins, was in Fortunato's room when Sandy was allegedly lured to Plumb Beach. Timmins pleaded guilty to robbery and received a four-year sentence in exchange for his testimony for the prosecution.

Upon meeting Sandy, Fox allegedly took him to a sand dune where the others were hiding. It was there that Shurov allegedly beat Sandy, who tried to run away. He was reportedly chased into traffic on the Belt Parkway, where he was hit by oncoming traffic, leaving him critically injured.

Sandy was taken to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center after the suspects fled the scene. He was placed on life support for five days and his family was told that he would not survive the attack. Sandy died Oct. 13, the day after his 29th birthday.

Police were able to find the suspects through Sandy's phone and Internet records. Since Sandy was said to be targeted for his sexual orientation, Fortunato, Fox, and Shurov are being charged with murder as a hate crime. According to a statement by the Brooklyn district attorney's office, the men could serve 25 years to life in prison.

The men were also charged with felony murder, which, according to TheNew York Times, requires prosecutors to prove that Sandy's death occurred during a robbery. Fox's attorney, John Patten, has requested the charges to be lessened to larceny by trick.

New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn said in August that the judicial system would not tolerate criminal activity spurred by bias or hate.

"These criminals deliberately sought their victim by hunting users of Web sites serving the gay community," she said. "That kind of prejudiced attack is an assault on all New Yorkers, and must be answered with a stern, uncompromising response"

However, Fortunato's attorney, Gerald J. DiChiara, said on the opening day of the trial that his client is also gay. In fact, he said, Fortunato was going to come out to his friends that night, and meeting up with another gay man was part of the plan.

"If he happens to be gay, I think it's more likely that he's not targeting gay people," DiChiara said Sept. 18, according to The New YorkTimes.

On the second day of the trial, presiding judge Jill Konviser-Levine questioned the defense. "I'm still curious as to the relevance of your client's sexuality," a Times article quoting her saying to DiChiara.

A witness for the prosecution said on Sept. 24 that he, Fox, and Fortunato went to a restaurant to meet Fortunato's girlfriend. The next day in the trial, computer investigators revealed pornographic images of Fortunato that he sent to Sandy.

Assistant District Attorney Anna Sigga-Nicolazzi said that Fortunato once told Timmins that he had robbed gay men in the past. She mentioned an alleged robbery where he took a man to a Comfort Inn, where the man undressed in the bathroom while Fortunato stole his money and fled.

During questioning, computer investigator Christopher Wachholtz said gay and straight pornography were found on Fortunato's computer.

"From what I recall there were a couple of images and numerous videos of men and women," Wachholtz said.

Clarence Patton, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, told The Advocate Friday that his group has been following the trial closely since the beginning. Sandy's family found an ally in the AVP, which sends representatives to the trial daily. Patton said New York City residents have been shaken by the crime.

"I think it certainly resonated with the black gay community, and I think also for a lot of us who happen to be black, and gay, and a certain age," he said.

Patton drew similarities to the Sandy case with that of the beating of three black men by a group of white youths in Howard Beach, a Queens, N.Y., neighborhood. Cedric Sandiford, Timothy Grimes, and Michael Griffith were driving through Howard Beach when their car broke down. They encountered a group of more than 10 white men who gathered outside a pizza parlor where the three ate. Sandiford and Grimes were able to escape the mob, but Griffith was chased down the Shore Parkway, where he was killed by an oncoming car.

"On top of [the similarities to the Griffith tragedy], given just the way in which they lured Michael Sandy out, [it] really struck a chord with some because so many of us use the Internet to meet people for different reasons," Patton said. (Michelle Garcia, The Advocate)

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