MANHATTAN (CN) — As the nation grieves its largest mass shooting in Orlando, a New York judge found echoes of its perpetrator Tuesday in a man he sentenced to 40-years-to-life imprisonment for a West Village hate crime.
The sentencing came just over three years after Elliot Morales shot 32-year-old Mark Carson to death with a .38-caliber revolver after shouting homophobic slurs.
The May 2013 crime in a neighborhood that spawned the modern gay-liberation movement sparked widespread shock, community vigils and political action.
Then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had been running to be New York City's first openly gay mayor, and she called for heightened police protection as the city prepared to celebrate gay pride month.
Carson's death fell on the heels of homophobic assaults near Madison Square Garden and Pieces, a gay bar on Christopher Street, a block away from the iconic Stonewall Inn.
In sentencing Morales today, Justice Kirke Bartley said: "I guess I can't help but perceive or observe the parallel with the tragedy in Orlando."
"That parallel was revealed in the hatred, self-loathing, fear and death," he said.
Despite Orlando shooter Omar Mateen's claims to be serving the so-called Islamic State, a new possible motive emerged recently after the killer's ex-wife said her husband was gay. Clubgoers at the Pulse nightclub, the site of the massacre, reported that Mateen had been a regular there, and they recognized the gunman from gay hook-up apps like Grindr.
Morales depicted himself as a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, rather than a threat to it.
Defiant through his sentencing, Morales denied being motivated by hatred and told the court that he identified as bisexual. He cast the shooting as a tragic accident and his victim as the aggressor who "pursued, provoked and antagonized" him.
A Manhattan jury did not believe Morales, convicting the 36-year-old of charges that included murder as a hate crime, criminal possession of a weapon and menacing.
Appearing relaxed at his reckoning, Morales wore a beige prison jumpsuit and had a pair of glasses resting on his nose as he spoke in his own defense.
Morales held a manila envelope of evidence that he claimed prosecutors provided him after his convictions that he insisted would exonerate him. The felon blamed Carson's death on negligent care from the medical professionals. He cast himself as the target of a politically motivated prosecution, and he described the fatal shot he fired in his victim's face as a "tragic accident."
"In no part was it based on hate toward anyone's sexual orientation, color, religion, or any of those things," he told Carson's friends and family in the courtroom pews.
Promising to appeal his convictions, Morales turned to the bench before adding: "Furthermore, judge, it is beyond my comprehension that someone like myself, who happens to be bisexual and part of the LGBT community can be falsely accused and then convicted of a hate crime."
For the judge, Morales's stubborn denials and stoic demeanor were part of the case's "paradox."
"You appear in this courtroom calm, intelligent, well-prepared and behaved, and you reject that part of you we saw in that video," Bartley said. "That chilling video that was played numerous times in the course of this trial, and so at adds with the person that I see before me here in court."
The judge compared the "manifestly evil creature" seen in that video as "something worthy of a character in a Stephen King novel."
"In short, a monster," he said. "Mr. Morales, yours is a legacy of death and fear: Nothing more, and nothing less."
Bartley's heavy sentence came as a relief to a handful of victims who urged for the maximum penalty.
One of them, John Keon, was a bartender at Annisa restaurant on Barrow Street, where Morales was found urinating outside and threatened the employees after one scolded him.
"The interaction I had with Elliot Morales that night left me incredibly shaken and disturbed," said Keon, a gay man of Morales' age. "To this day, it stirs up emotions and painful memories. The interaction I had with Morales was made more impactful because he did to Mark Carson what he was threatening to do to me."
Detective Kelly Wheeler read a statement by Carson's best friend Danny Robinson, who testified at trial but was unable to attend the sentencing.
Since Carson's murder, Robinson wrote: "The depression, anxiety and fear of death came out to me big time."
"I will never forget my friend," he said in his statement. "I will always talk about him."
The last victim to speak was the arresting New York City Police officer Henry Huot, who subdued Morales when the gunman fumbled his weapon.
"At that moment, I came to accept my fate that I might never go home to see my little ones," he said.
Assistant District Attorney Shannon Lucey noted that Morales' crimes had "shocked the West Village to its core."
"Not only did the defendant attack all those people, but he did so with no remorse and no sense of responsibility."
After Bartley pronounced his sentence, Morales tried to stop the judge from leaving the room because he wanted to make another statement in his defense for the record.
Bartley tersely rejected the request, telling Morales that he would not give him the last word.
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