Court mulls terrorism charge against gang member

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ALBANY -- In 2002, a street gang crashed a Bronx christening party, shouted out their superiority, confronted a rival and started a fight that left a 10-year-old girl dead and someone else paralyzed.

The Court of Appeals, New York's top court, will consider Tuesday whether one of the gang members is a homegrown terrorist.

Edgar Morales, a member of the St. James Boys, a Mexican-American gang, sought to intimidate an entire population and deserves more prison time than others convicted of the same crimes, Bronx prosecutors say. He was convicted in 2007 for the shooting death under the state's anti-terrorism statute, the first case of its kind in New York.

"Violent crime committed by a street gang constitutes a crime of terrorism . . . when it is motivated solely by the intent to establish a gang's 'street credentials' as the toughest Mexican gang in the Bronx," because those crimes are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, prosecutors argue in a court filing.

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Morales, now 30, was accused of firing five shots during the August 2002 fracas, killing bystander Melany Mendez. He told police he was there and briefly handled a gun, but said he wasn't involved in either the fight or the shooting.

On appeal, the Appellate Division said he's no terrorist under the statute and deserves resentencing.

Defense attorney Catherine Amirfar said the prosecution's definition would effectively expand the anti-terrorism law to any street crime.

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