2nd arrest made in NYC hate slaying of Ecuadorean

By: AP
By: AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- A second person was arrested Friday in the hate-crime killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant beaten with a bat and kicked on a New York street as the attackers shouted Hispanic and gay slurs.

Police had released a video showing Keith Phoenix, 28, grinning as he paid a bridge toll on Dec. 7 at 3:47 a.m., 19 minutes after real estate broker Jose Sucuzhanay and his brother were attacked in Brooklyn. A $22,000 reward had been offered for information leading to his capture.

Phoenix was found hiding in an apartment of a woman who knew his ex-girlfriend, said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Detectives had been to several locations in New York and Connecticut looking for him, and were told he might be at the home in suburban Yonkers where he was found.

Police and prosecutors said Sucuzhanay was beaten with a bat and kicked by men shouting Hispanic and gay slurs as the brothers walked arm-in-arm to keep warm on the cold night.

"This horrible act appears to have been fueled by a deadly combination of ethnic and homophobic prejudice," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at a news conference on the arrest.

Bloomberg said in Spanish that victims of hate crimes should not fear reporting the attacks. He said he hoped the arrests provided some measure of comfort to Sucuzhanay's family.

The other suspect, Hakim Scott, 25, pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree murder as a hate crime. If convicted, he could face 25 years to life in prison. Phoenix was arrested on charges of second-degree murder as a hate crime and was expected to be arraigned Monday.

The attack ignited outrage from New York to Ecuador, sparking demonstrations around the city. On Thursday, community members gathered at the spot where Sucuzhanay was beaten.

Before the street attack, Sucuzhanay, 31, and his brother, Romel, had attended a church party and stopped at a bar.

Police said Phoenix and Scott were sitting in a sport utility vehicle at a red light when they came upon the brothers. The groups "exchanged words." Then Scott got out of the SUV, hit Jose Sucuzhanay with a beer bottle and chased Romel Sucuzhanay with it, separating the brothers, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Phoenix grabbed an aluminum baseball bat from the vehicle and "savagely beat Jose about his shoulders, ribs and back until he fell to the pavement," Kelly said.

Romel Sucuzhanay was able to run and call police.

The attack left Jose Sucuzhanay in a coma. He died several days later as his mother was en route from their native Ecuador to see him. He was buried in Ecuador.

Investigators used information from witnesses about the SUV's license plate to trace the vehicle to Phoenix's girlfriend, who wasn't involved in the attack, Kelly said. They linked Phoenix to the SUV using information from an Oct. 20, 2008, accident report; he was driving it at the time, police said. It's the same vehicle shown in the video released Thursday.

The attack on Sucuzhanay came about a month after another Ecuadorean immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, was stabbed to death in Patchogue, on Long Island. Prosecutors said seven teenagers charged in that assault had set out to find a Hispanic person to attack.

Lucero's mother and brother, Rosario and Joselo, attended the rally Thursday in support of Sucuzhanay's family.

"We don't deserve treatment like that," Joselo Lucero said. "They have to stop the hate."

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