Prosecutors in Manhattan have decided to retry on murder charges the Harlem man whose conviction in the bizarre 2009 suicide-for-hire killing of Woodmere motivational speaker Jeffrey Locker was overturned in October.
Kenneth Minor, 41, was convicted of murder in 2011 for helping kill Locker in a plan to bail out his family with life insurance. But an appeals court said the judge instructed jurors incorrectly on assisted suicide, which is only manslaughter in New York.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had three choices -- to try Minor for murder again, to accept a plea to manslaughter or to ask the state's highest court in Albany to review the case. The decision was disclosed at a hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court Thursday.
Vance has contended in the past that Minor should be punished for murder because it was not a "mercy killing," but defense lawyer Daniel Gotlin said the DA was incorrectly viewing an assisted suicide charge as a free pass.
"The problem is that Mr. Vance has this idea that people should not be able to get away with this," Gotlin said after the hearing. "But when you're convicted of second-degree manslaughter, that's not getting away with something."
Locker, 53, a married father of three, was in deep financial trouble at the time of his death in 2009. He had $18 million in life insurance, including $12 million acquired just before his death that would not pay out for a suicide.
According to testimony, he recruited Minor, a 6-foot-4 ex-con, off the street by promising to give him his ATM card if Minor would help kill him. Minor later told police he merely held a knife against the steering wheel of Locker's car while Locker lunged onto it.
Locker's bloody body was found in his car on July 16, 2009, with his hands bound and multiple stab wounds to the chest. Prosecutors contended that Minor plunged the knife into Locker's chest. Both sides relied on medical experts.
The jury had only a murder charge before it, not a manslaughter charge. New York's assisted-suicide law says that anyone "causing or aiding" a suicide is not guilty of murder, but the judge told jurors the defense allowed only "passive" assistance, not "active" help.
The 1st Department Appellate Division said that instruction was an error, because the distinction didn't appear in the statute, and jurors could have concluded that even Minor's claim that he just held the knife was "active."
Minor was sentenced to 20 years to life on his murder conviction. Second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 7 1/2 to 15 years. Gotlin said Minor had offered in plea negotiations to accept a sentence of 4 to 8 years.
Prosecutor Peter Casolaro Thursday said that for the new trial, the DA hopes to have a grand jury return a separate indictment for manslaughter, and then present both charges to the jury at a retrial. Gotlin said he would oppose that plan.
State Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward, who did not handle the first trial, refused to set bail for Minor. She scheduled the retrial for Feb. 13.