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Dix Hills man guilty of manslaughter in brother’s killing

Charles Okonkwo Jr., 21, of Dix Hills, was

Charles Okonkwo Jr., 21, of Dix Hills, was convicted Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, of manslaughter in the death of his brother in July 2014. The photo is from July 20, 2014, shortly after his arrest. Credit: James Carbone

A jury on Friday convicted a Dix Hills man of manslaughter and assault for choking his younger brother to death and beating his mother in a 2014 in-home fight sparked by a missing wallet.

Charles Okonkwo Jr., 21, dropped his head in relief in the Riverhead courtroom when the jury acquitted him of second-degree murder, the top charge.

As the verdict was read, Charles Okonkwo Sr. comforted his wife, who is still recovering from her injuries and sat in a wheelchair.

Okonkwo Jr. faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced for second-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault Sept. 16 in State Supreme Court.

Jurors deliberated for more than four hours over two days before reaching their decision. A dozen witnesses testified during the 10-day trial.

Defense attorney Eric Besso of Sayville argued that Okonkwo Jr. acted recklessly but didn’t intend to kill his brother or hurt his mother.

Prosecutors said Okonkwo Sr. returned home the evening of July 19, 2014, after a brief hospital stay and discovered his 15-year-old son Bradley dead in his bedroom.

He found his wife, Chinwe, 54, unconscious in a pool of blood in the garage. She had been beaten and suffered serious injuries, including facial fractures, authorities said.

Okonkwo Jr. was found a short time later with his belongings at a nearby shopping center on East Jericho Turnpike.

Authorities said he admitted to the July 18 attacks inside the family home. Okonkwo Jr. had a history of mental health problems, according to prosecutors.

During closing arguments Thursday, Besso told the jury Okonkwo Jr. acted in self-defense.

The incident started, Besso said, when Bradley Okonkwo began choking his older brother in a dispute over Okonkwo Jr.’s missing wallet.

“Charles tried to pull [Bradley’s] arms off of his neck — not being able to do so, he reached behind him and pressed on Bradley’s neck until Bradley let go of Charles’ neck,” Besso said.

As the brother lay in the bedroom, Okonkwo Jr. sought help from his mother, a medical doctor, Besso said.

According to Besso, she went to help Bradley Okonkwo, then became enraged at her oldest son — swinging a lamp at him and chasing him around the house. In the garage, she hit him with an iron steering-wheel club.

Okonkwo Jr. wrestled the club away and struck her in a “knee-jerk reaction,” the lawyer said.

Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock said in her closing argument that the defendant meant to kill.

“This was no accident, folks. This was no mistake,” the prosecutor said. “ . . . This was murder — plain and simple.”

Kurtzrock said the evidence shows that Okonkwo Jr. choked his brother for several minutes until he died, and that he repeatedly beat his mother, putting her in a coma.

After the verdict, Besso said the jury’s decision was fair.

“It was always my belief that it was unintentional, and the jury saw it that way,” he said. “It’s still a horrible tragic result for the family.”

Okonkwo Sr. said the family was close, and he can’t explain why his son committed the crimes.

He said Bradley Okonkwo, who attended Half Hollow Hills High School, was a “sweet boy” — respectful and loved by his teachers.

“I miss him, and I will die with that pain,” the father said.

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