Crown Heights sentence offers community no closure

The judge in the case tacked on an extra five years of probation for Nelson after he completes his sentence, out of concern that he will continue to be a menace after he is released.

Nelson's sentence was announced Tuesday in a small Federal District Court in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y by Judge David Trager. The courtroom was jammed with his African-American supporters on one side, and members of the Jewish community on the other.

His conviction for violating Rosenbaum's civil rights came in February 1997, five years after he was acquitted on criminal charges.

His act was "one of blind, baseless bigotry and putrid violent hate," said Fay Rosenbaum, the victim's mother, as she addressed the court before his sentence was pronounced.

She and her husband, Max, traveled to the United States from Australia this week for the first time since the younger of her two children was murdered in 1991 on the streets of the neighborhood where he had come to continue his research on the Holocaust.

Rosenbaum was 29 when he was killed on the first of three nights of rioting in the neighborhood populated almost exclusively by blacks and Chassidic Jews.

"This is no closure," Jacob Goldstein, a Lubavitcher and chairman of Community Board 9, which encompasses Crown Heights, said in a telephone interview, moments after the sentence was pronounced.

"As far as we're concerned, there were more than 20 other thugs involved in that pack, and the feds seem to be saying that they got us one or two, and that's all they're willing to do.

"…until the other thugs are caught, we won't feel like it's over."

Charles Price, also involved in Rosenbaum's murder, has been found guilty of violating his civil rights, but no date has been set for his sentencing.

It's been nearly seven years since crowds of African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans rampaged the streets of the Brooklyn neighborhood for three days, enraged by the death of a young boy who was struck by a car driven by a Chassid.

On a hot night in August 1991, Nelson, then 16, and some 20 other people surrounded Rosenbaum after coming from the spot where the boy, Gavin Cato, had just been killed .

Nelson and others spotted Yankel Rosenbaum on the street, according to court papers. One of them shouted, "There's a Jew, get the Jew," and attacked him.

During the melee, Nelson stabbed Rosenbaum and fled. Police caught Nelson and found a bloody knife in his pocket.

In the hospital, the mortally wounded Rosenbaum identified Nelson as the person who had stabbed him.

Shortly thereafter, Nelson admitted to police that he had committed the stabbing, according to the documents. He was charged in New York state court as an adult with second-degree murder.

Nevertheless, after a six-week trial, Nelson was acquitted in October 1992. The jurors joined him in a celebratory dinner that night at a restaurant.

Rosenbaum's brother saw that as a challenge, rather than end, to his effort to find justice.

Norman Rosenbaum made at least 60 trips from his home and family in Australia — where he works as an attorney and professor of law — to the United States, where he pressed federal officials to have Nelson charged with violating his younger brother's civil rights.