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Man found guilty in ‘01 Jax Heights gay murder

A former Jackson Heights man who fled to England following the beating death of a 35-year-old gay Jackson Heights man in 2001 was convicted of murder last Thursday, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

John McGhee, 40, who was arrested in 2006 while trying to re-enter the country, faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 29, Brown said.

"Without provocation, the defendant ran up to the victim and brutally assaulted him before trying to rob him," Brown said in a statement. "He then ran off, leaving the victim laying on the ground, unconscious and bleeding. It was an ugly and brutal act of savagery that will now result in the defendant serving what will probably be the rest of his life behind bars."

On Aug. 15, 2001, around 4 a.m., McGhee hit Edgar Garzon, 35, on 77th Street near 35th Avenue as he walked home from Friends Tavern, a gay bar on Roosevelt Avenue, Brown said.

The attack fractured Garzon's skull, Brown said. McGee then attempted to rob him, the DA said.

Garzon, a Colombian native and naturalized citizen who worked as a theater set designer, lapsed into a coma and died Sept. 4, 2001, at Elmhurst Hospital Center.

Charles Abercrombie, McGhee's attorney, said his client intends to appeal the conviction after his sentencing.

"He will continue to fight because he maintains his innocence," Abercrombie said.

McGhee was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in June 2006 following a flight from London, Brown said. The defendant was told to leave England because he lied on his citizenship application, Brown said.

The murder provoked an outcry from gay activists in the community, who believed the attack was a hate crime similar to an incident 11 years prior.

In that 1990 murder, two members of a skinhead gang attacked Julio Rivera, a gay 29-year-old bartender from Jackson Heights, with a knife and a hammer in the schoolyard of PS 69, according to Brown.

Daniel Dromm, a Jackson Heights Democratic district leader and gay activist, hailed the conviction, noting he recently attended a candlelight vigil with Garzon's family.

"It is good news in the sense that we finally have a conviction, but of course, it's still a very sad set of circumstances for the family," he said. Nothing will ever bring Edgar back."

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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