By Howard Koplowitz
Freedom will have to wait for Howard Beach resident Nicholas “Fat Nick” Minucci after his appeal of his hate crime convictions stemming from the summer 2005 beating of a black man was denied by an appellate court.
Minucci, 23, who is incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., and scheduled to be released in 2017, was convicted of robbery and assault as a hate crime in 2006 for attacking Ozone Park resident Glenn Moore, who is black, in Howard Beach with an aluminum baseball bat. He used the N-word during the assault, prosecutors said.
While the state appellate court sided with the Queens district attorney’s office in the case, it said Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter, who presided over the case, made a mistake by not allowing Minucci to call character witnesses to testify that he was not a racist. But the court said the mistake was not damaging enough to throw out Minucci’s convictions.
“Under the circumstances of this case, where the defendant was being tried for hate crimes motivated by race or color, the Supreme Court erred in not permitting one of the defendant’s character witnesses to testify that the defendant did not have a reputation in the community for being biased and prejudiced against black people. The defendant’s lack of reputation for prejudice against black people was relevant to his guilt or innocence,” the four appellate justices wrote in the Dec. 15 decision.
“Nevertheless, the error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence that the crimes at issue were motivated in substantial part by the defendant’s belief and perception regarding race or color, and the fact that the defendant’s two character witnesses were permitted to testify as to the defendant’s reputation in the community for lack of bias in general. There was no significant probability that the error contributed to the convictions,” they wrote.
Minucci was also appealing because his lawyer contended Buchter wrongfully disallowed people under 30 years old from sitting on the jury.
“The defendant failed to support his contention that persons under the age of 30 constitute a cognizable group with regard to discrimination in jury selection,” the court wrote.
Minucci’s attorney on appeal, Lynn W. Fahey could not be reached for comment.
His trial attorney, Albert Gaudelli, said he was taken aback by the appellate court’s decision.
“I’m surprised because there were issues with that case,” he said. “There were some hot-button issues.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.