A Hasidic man sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the brutal gang attack on a Black fashion student in Brooklyn, New York, is walking free of all charges after a state appeals court on Wednesday tossed out his guilty verdict.
Mayer Herskovic was found guilty at his non-jury trial in September 2016 of gang assault and related charges after he and a gang of Hasidic neighborhood watch members jumped victim Taj Patterson, beating the fashion student so badly that he was left blinded in one eye.
Recalling the vicious 2013 attack in Williamsburg, Patterson testified that Herskovic shoved a thumb in his eye and that one of his eye sockets was fractured after the gang chased and attacked him as he walked to the subway station. Judges for the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department ruled, however, that Patterson’s testimony was shaky at times and did not prove without a reasonable doubt that Herskovic was his attacker.
“Mayer is overjoyed,” Herskovic’s attorney, Donna Aldea, said. “The decision means that, for all intents and purposes, he is innocent.”
The case unfolded Dec. 1, 2013, when Patterson, then 22, was headed to the subway after a night out drinking with friends. That’s when a group of Hasidic men, some of them part of a neighborhood patrol group called the Shomrim, ruthlessly beat him, all because of a false claim that Patterson was out vandalizing cars, The New York Times reported.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office originally charged five men in connection with the attack, but prosecutors dropped charges against two of the assailants and let the other two plead guilty to lesser crimes, avoiding jail time. Herskovic was the only one to take his case to trial, where he was ultimately convicted.
Upending the conviction, appellate judges noted in their decision that Patterson had failed to positively identify his assailants and pointed to the victim’s contradictory accounts of the attack.
“Notably, the complainant and others who testified at trial gave conflicting accounts of the assault,” judges wrote. “Among other things, the complainant testified that the person who pulled off his sneaker was the same person who shoved a thumb in his eye. He referred to this person as the ‘ringleader’ and one of the men who’d initially chased him. However, he also testified that the person he identified as the ringleader wasn’t the defendant.”
Moreover, jurists argued that the DNA evidence initially used to convict Herskovic was “less than convincing” and didn’t definitively point to him as Patterson’s attacker.
“We respect the court’s decision,” said Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
As for Patterson, he told The New York Post by phone he needed “time to process” the ruling and refused to comment further.
It’s unclear if the DA’s office plans to convene another grand jury, however, prosecutors would have to secure a fresh indictment in order to retry to the case at all, according to the newspaper.
Law enforcement officials said Wednesday’s ruling means it’s likely no one will ever serve jail time for the brutal attack on Patterson.