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One Acquitted, Three Guilty

July 16, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ A jury in the second trial stemming from the Howard Beach racial attack convicted three defendants of misdemeanor riot charges Friday but acquitted a fourth young man.

The verdict came several hours after the jury had said it was deadlocked, prompting the government to offer a plea bargain granting the defendants youthful offender status and probation, according to sources on both sides of the case.

The offer was rejected, and the jury then returned a split verdict in which the three were acquitted of first-degree riot, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years, but convicted of second-degree riot, punishable by up to a year in prison.

″To the day I die, I’ll know I did the right thing,″ said William Bollander referring to his decision to reject the plea bargain.

John Saggese, 20, who was found innocent, said, ″I prayed. I had my hand on this the whole time,″ displaying a small religious object.

Saggese said he told his friends and co-defendants Bollander, Thomas Farino and James Povinelli, all 18, ″I’m sorry.″

″It should have been the same for them,″ he said.

All three were convicted in the Dec. 20, 1986, attack by a white gang on three blacks in the Howard Beach section of Queens. Felony riot or first- degree riot involves ″tumultuous and violent conduct″ by a group of more than 10 people. Misdemeanor or second-degree riot involves such conduct by a group of more than four people.

On Thursday, a separate jury in the trial cleared Thomas Gucciardo, 19, of attempted murder, assault and riot charges. The jury foreman said the defendant not been positively identified.

Todd D. Greenberg, an attorney for Bollander, said the three who were convicted will file an appeal immediately after their Sept. 14 sentencing. But Richard La Rosa, attorney for Farino, said, ″We’ll have to see. It’s an expensive process.″

Earlier Friday, jurors had told the trial judge they were hopelessly deadlocked and unable to reach a verdict. But state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Demakos responded to the jurors’s noontime note saying, ″We are not at an impasse. We are against a mountain.″

″This is far too an important matter ... for you, after a trial of this length, simply to throw in the sponge,″ Demakos admonished them, noting that there had been five weeks of testimony.

″I ask that you reason with each other and listen to reason,″ he added.

The Howard Beach incident, which New York civil rights activists said was a symptom of racism, resulted in the death of 23-year-old Michael Griffith, who was struck by a car as he fled the gang of whites.

Three young men were convicted of manslaughter in an earlier trial, and a fourth was acquitted. Two other teen-agers pleaded guilty to riot charges just prior to the second trial.

Griffith’s mother, Jean Griffith, said Thursday’s verdict ″is not justice.″

″Nobody knows the pain of what we’re going through. For me, I have nothing ... I lost everything. My son is dead,″ said Mrs. Griffith, who was in court Friday.

John Saggese, the defendant’s father, said he shed ″tears of joy for my son’s acquittal, tears of sorrow for the boys who were convicted and for Mrs. Griffith and her loss.″

The elder Saggese reiterated the defendants’ contention that Howard Beach is not a racist community, adding, ″We’re loving people and I wish people could see it that way.″

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.

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