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Family Cries Foul Over Handling of Case by Prosecutors

March 2, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ The parents of a black teen-ager slain in a racial attack in Brooklyn said Thursday that the disappearance of an important witness in the case makes them feel betrayed by prosecutors.

″They can take that sign down in the courthouse that says, ’And Justice for All,‴ Diane Hawkins, the mother of 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins, said at the Apollo Theater in Harlem after appearing on a WLIB radio program.

Hawkins was shot to death Aug. 23 when he and three black friends were surrounded by a gang of young whites shortly after arriving in the predominantly white Bensonhurst neighborhood to look at a used car.

On Wednesday, District Attorney Charles J. Hynes announced that John Vento, 21, has been missing since Christmas.

Vento, who allegedly participated in the attack, had agreed to testify before a grand jury and at any trial as part of deal in which he would not be charged.

The trial was to start Monday, but prosecutors plan to ask state Supreme Court Justice Thaddeus Owens to adjourn the proceedings for a month if Vento is not found in the next few days.

Vento’s attorney, Gerald DiChiara, said Thursday that his client’s brother told him that the family was also looking for Vento. ″They don’t know where he is,″ DiChiara said.

The brother said the family wants to persuade Vento to give up, the lawyer said.

Hawkins’ father, Moses Stewart, said he felt betrayed by former District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman, who was replaced in January by Hynes.

″So he was given immunity by Holtzman and slipped through the fingers of Hynes,″ Stewart said.

Hynes spokesman Patrick Clark said the district attorney was prepared to meet with the family.

″He’s a father, too, and knows how much the Stewart family is grieving,″ Clark said. ″He regrets they are disappointed, but he’s going to do everything in his power to do justice to their son.″

The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the family’s advisers, said Mrs. Hawkins would lead a rally through Bensonhurst on Saturday.