The lawyer for a 26-year-old Brooklyn man convicted of murdering a judge's nephew and injuring two others in a 1998 shooting spree at the Rego Park Red Lobster restaurant said he would appeal the jury's verdict following a two-week trial.
The Long Island City Supreme Court jury deliberated less than two days after being sequestered and delivered the guilty verdict shortly before 8 p.m. on March 1. Judge Timothy Flaherty presided over the trial.
On Tuesday, defense attorney Richard Landes of Manhattan said there would be an appeal of the verdict. He maintained his client's innocence.
The defendant, Angelo Espinal of Williamsburg, faces a combined sentence of more than 35 years to life in prison after being found guilty of second-degree murder, reckless endangerment, two counts of assault, and criminal possession of a weapon.
Assistant District Attorney Robin Leopold said she would seek the stiffest penalty during a sentencing hearing scheduled for March 30 because of the violent nature of the crime.
"I think with these circumstances I will ask for the maximum time," she said. "This crime really fits that bill."
On Sept. 21, 1998, Espinal returned to the Red Lobster on Queens Boulevard where his victim, Harold Browne, had taunted and embarrassed him in front of his girlfriend, Leopold told jurors.
Suffering wounded pride and seeking vengeance from 38-year-old Browne, who stood over 6 feet tall, the 5-foot-4 Espinal opened fire in the crowded dining room, killing Browne and injuring two women bystanders, Leopold said.
Browne, the nephew of the late Queens Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Browne, was shot once in the head and died nine days later.
Landes tried to convince jurors that Espinal was wrongly accused and Browne's killer was still at large.
In an attempt to plant a reasonable doubt in the minds of the 12 jurors that his client was not the shooter, Landes questioned the credibility of key prosecution witnesses during closing arguments. Two witnesses were close friends of Browne's and both had long criminal records; others were fed information by authorities during a sloppy police investigation, Landes said.
The defense attorney also tried to build up his client's credibility, noting that dozens of Espinal's friends were in the courtroom throughout the entire eight-day trial. Espinal and his girlfriend both took the stand.
But the panel of seven men and five women rejected the efforts to free Espinal of blame, including an option to convict him on the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter. They asked the court to read back the testimony describing what happened on the night of the attack from seven prosecution witnesses.
They did not ask to hear any defense witness testimony in making up their minds as to whether the defendant was guilty.
"Obviously I'm unhappy with the verdict, but the jury has spoken," Landes said. "I'm quite honestly baffled."
Immediately after delivering the verdict, the jurors' exit from the courtroom was closely guarded by court officers. Tensions between supporters of the defendant and Browne flared up during the trial, prompting authorities to move the trial each day from its cramped basement quarters to whichever spacious courtroom was available in the aged Long Island City building.
"This was an utterly senseless tragedy that resulted from the defendant's desire for revenge," said District Attorney Richard A. Brown in a statement. "It was an appalling crime that ended the life of a 38-year-old man."
A Sanitation Department worker, Browne was part of a close-knit circle of family and friends who had "a tremendous zest for life," Leopold said.
"There are moments when you become concerned that maybe the jury will not see the truth," she said of the trial's outcome. "It's such a relief to me because the defense really put so many things in their path."
©2000 Community News Group
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