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Nearly 15 years ago, a black mans life ended abruptly when he was chased onto the Belt Parkway by a gang of white youths and struck by a car.
Jon Lester, the ringleader of the racially motivated Howard Beach attack that led to Michael Griffiths death, has recently been released from Wende Correctional Facility and deported to England, said Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections.
On Dec. 20, 1986, Griffith, Cedric Sandiford and Timothy Grimes stopped in Howard Beach after experiencing car trouble. They were chased through the streets of the predominantly white neighborhood by a gang of youths who screamed insults at them.
Sandiford was severely beaten with a baseball bat. Grimes managed to free himself from the attackers. Trying to escape, Griffith crawled through a fence and ran onto the Belt Parkway, where he was killed by an oncoming car.
Lester, the instigator of the attack who lived in Howard Beach, and three others were charged in the assault that highlighted racial tensions in New York City.
Lester, 32, was released from jail after serving nearly 15 of a possible 20-year sentence. He was initially sentenced to up to 30 years, but that was reduced due to a change in state law.
A British subject, Lester was turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service on May 4, said Foglia. He was deported to England May 29. Lester was previously denied parole in October 1996, 1998 and 2000.
During his trial, Lester was identified as the instigator of the assault by a member of the group who took part in the attack. He was convicted of manslaughter, assault and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Two other Howard Beach teenagers, Jason Ledone and Scott Kern, were also convicted of manslaughter, while a fourth youth was acquitted. Ledone was released in April and Kern is set to be freed next spring.
Lesters release angered Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Im not happy with the changes in the law that allowed the sentence to be reduced essentially to 15 years, he said. Some would say 15 years is significant punishment, but he is alive and Michael Griffith is dead.
Hynes was also disturbed that Griffiths mother, Jean Griffith Sandiford, was not told of Lesters release beforehand.
The Rev. Al Sharpton was among the people who led marches through the streets of Howard Beach in protest against the killing. In what he later described as a scene out of a film on Mississippi in the 60s, residents of the neighborhood lined the streets, screaming racist epithets at protesters and hurling watermelons in their path.
Reach Reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or at 718-229-0300, ext. 155.
©2001 Community Newspaper Group
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