Left to right: Attorney Neville Mitchell ([email protected]), Peter Hajdari Jr., Attorney Dawn Florio ([email protected]), Attorney Peter St. George Davis ([email protected]), and Zaire Bansey. Black Star News photo.
Two young men, Zaire Bansey, 22, and Peter Hajdari Jr., 20, were both acquitted today on all charges after a three-week trial in the double murder and manslaughter case for the killing of Dennis Rodriguez and Armani Gonzalez outside Xtreme Lounge club on Valentine Avenue, on October 5, 2014.
As readers of this column know by now, I pointed out serious weaknesses in the Bronx County District Attorney’s case in two previous columns. I noted that even Jacqueline Gonzalez, mother of one of the victims harbored reasonable doubt. When asked by Bansey’s defense attorney Peter St. George Davis whether justice for her meant the conviction of Bansey and Hajdari, she said, “If they did it.”
This is not the response you’d expect from a mother who, after three weeks of testimony, was convinced the right defendants were on trial. Of course, she was understandably devastated when the verdict was announced today.
The families of the victims deserve better work from the New York Police Department and detectives who were on the case. As I noted in my earlier columns, the prosecution’s key witness was not believable. The NYPD should get a new lead detective on the case and remove it from Sergio Lovera. He too was not credible at all on the witness stand. Attorney Davis said Lovera ignored other leads and focused on Hajdari and Bansey while acting as if he was directing a “block buster” film instead of solving a double murder.
I analyzed the testimony and statements by the prosecution’s top witness Lamont Gholson, who drove a shuttle van for Fordham University students. I visited the scene of the 2014 crime five times. I could tell that from where the DA’s own star witness Gholson testified that he saw two men, it would not have been possible for anyone to fire a weapon whose bullet, or bullets, could have reached the Xtreme Lounge at 2510 Valentine Avenue. The bullet, or bullets, would have had to have traveled 100 feet in a straight line from near the corner of Fordham Road and Grand Concourse then turn at a 90 degrees angle and travel another 100 to 103 feet to reach the front of Xtreme Lounge where autopsy reports say the bodies of the victims were found.
Even though Gholson’s testimony was in conflict with the information he provided his supervisor in 2014, he was consistent about one thing at all times; he never said he saw a gun. So, in October 2014, detective Lovera took two young girls, Naya Santiago and Xena Linrosa, 17 and 18, respectively at the time, from home to the 52 precinct where they were interrogated by detectives and threatened with arrest for the double murder. They were also interrogated by assistant district attorney Jessica Goodwin. All of this happened Central Park 5 style; without a lawyer present on behalf of the girls, who were friends of Bansey and Hajdari and had partied with them on that fateful October 5, 2014.
The girls were at the precinct from 9 am until after 6 pm and by the time they left, Linrosa had seen either the “outline” of a gun, the “print” of a gun, or an actual gun on Bansey’s waistline or pocket. Jurors asked to hear again playback of Goodwin’s audio recorded interrogation of the girls. They did not buy it.
Gholson also claimed he saw one of two men extend his arm out (even though, he also testified the man’s back was turned to him, begging the question as to how he could have seen an extended arm) before he heard the shots. I believe Gholson said this because he would have had to explain why he never saw a flash from the muzzle if indeed he had really seen a man extending a hand out; and, firing a weapon. Gholson also claimed one of the men was lighter-skinned than the other; yet, he could not pick the defendants out from two separate lineups. Gholson may have been pushed, but to his credit, he never said he saw a gun.
What’s more, as I noted in my second column the information given by Gholson to his supervisor, Joseph Downing, a former NYPD captain who had logged 28 years by the time he retired and took the Fordham job, coupled with Downing’s own observations, totally refuted his testimony at trial and the DA’s case.
The families of the victims deserve justice; not the sham investigation presided over by Lovera.
Hajdari and Bansey, after nearly three years in Riker’s Island, were united with their families today.
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