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Find One Defendent Innocent

July 14, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ A jury on Thursday found a teen-ager innocent of all charges in the Howard Beach attack by a white gang on three black men that resulted in the death of a person struck when he was chased onto a highway.

Cheers rang out in court as Thomas Gucciardo was acquitted of attempted murder, assault and riot stemming from the Dec. 20, 1986, attack. The defendant smiled broadly and hung his head back in relief.

A second jury considering lesser charges against four other defendants continued deliberating.

Three youths were convicted in an earlier trial of manslaughter in the death of 23-year-old Michael Griffith, who was struck by a car and killed on the Belt Parkway as he fled the attackers. A fourth youth was acquitted at that trial.

Before the verdict was announced, Gucciardo embraced weeping relatives, including his parents, Tom and Fran. ″I told them I loved them,″ he said.

″I was scared, but I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong,″ he said after the verdict. He said he was going to ″celebrate, then go back to school″ at St. John’s University.

″I’ll go home the first time in a year and a half a free man,″ he said.

The cheers of the spectators in the courtroom, he said, gave him ″the greatest feeling I ever had in my life.″

He said Howard Beach was not a racist neighborhood. ″There’s no racism there. One incident - how can you say there’s racism.″

But Jean Griffith, whose son died on the parkway, was bitter. ″This is not justice,″ she said.

″Nobody knows the pain of what we’re going through. For me, I have nothing ... I lost everything. My son is dead,″ she said.

Ed Boyar, an assistant special prosecutor, would not find fault with the jury, which included two black people.

″We picked the jury. We believed they would be fair-minded people. For me to criticize their verdict would be worse than sour grapes,″ he said.

Gucciardo had been charged with beating Cedric Sandiford with a tree limb during the attack. Sandiford, 37, testified during the trial that he was beaten by the white gang until he feigned unconsciousness.

The Gucciardo jury began its deliberations Tuesday morning.

A second jury deciding the fate of William Bollander, Thomas Farino and James Povinelli, all 18, and John Saggese, 20, began its deliberations Wednesday. All are charged with riot.

Does the Gucciardo verdict bode well for the other defendants? ″I hope to God it does. I hope our jury sees it the way this jury does,″ said Povinelli.

Two other teen-agers pleaded guilty to riot charges just prior to the second trial.

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