INCIDENT AT HOWARD BEACH: The Case for Murder by Charles J. & Bob Drury Hynes
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A special prosecutor's riveting, albeit ex parte, account of the polarizing Howard Beach case. Late on the night of December 19, 1986, four black men were marooned in the Howard Beach section of Queens when their car broke down. By the early hours of the next morning, one had been chased to his death on a heavily trafficked parkway and another severely beaten by a gang of club-wielding white teen-agers. The savage crime aggravated local ethnic tensions and attracted national press attention. The predominantly white community in which the assaults occurred quickly closed ranks, thwarting investigators, petrifying elected officials, and outraging members of minority groups. Under intense sociopolitical pressure, Cuomo (after clearing the appointment with black activists) put the author in charge of the racially charged case. An experienced and savvy public servant, Hynes offers a first-person rundown on how he sorted out the fateful night's elusive facts, secured indictments, and eventually won second-degree murder verdicts against four of the dozen participants in the attack. Along the way to courtroom victory, however, Hynes (recently elected Brooklyn DA) faced many challenges. For one thing, the victims of the clash were cocaine users with criminal records. For another, unhelpful militants like attorney Alton Maddox wanted and got a piece of the media action. In the meantime, the author and his ""A-team"" colleagues had to skirt legal pitfalls while ""turning"" an eyewitness who traded his testimony for a lenient sentence. Here, Hynes and Drury (a Newsday reporter) rattle along at a heady pace, focusing on the frequently fascinating details of how the case was painstakingly made against middle-class youths bent on mayhem. Whether in light of subsequent events, the Howard Beach convictions delivered a message, let alone served justice, remains an open question on which the author does not dwell. Nor does he apologize for employing tactics that would strike most lay observers as de facto acceptance of the premise that presumptively worthy ends excuse dubious, even devious, means. An effective, lawyerly brief that, while revealing much about racial politics, the adversarial practice of criminal law, and allied discontents of the urban experience, raises as many questions as it answers.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1989
Publisher: Putnam