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Long IslandCrime

5 teens plead not guilty to assault charges in fatal Oceanside stabbing

After arraignments, the stabbing victim's family vows to push for justice. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

The family of an Oceanside High School senior who suffered a deadly stab wound during an after-school brawl vowed Tuesday to fight for justice after watching the arraignments of some of the Long Beach teenagers facing gang assault charges.

Marquis Stephens Jr. and Javonte Neals, both 18, along with Sean Merritt and Taj Woodruff, both 17, pleaded not guilty in Nassau County Court as authorities unsealed an indictment accusing them of second-degree gang assault, a felony, and a misdemeanor assault charge.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Howard Sturim kept their bond at $25,000 and ordered those with passports to surrender them to the court.

"This is the beginning of a long journey. And we're going to stand here and we're going to fight for Khaseen," Keyanna Morris, one of the sisters of slaying victim Khaseen Morris, 16, said outside the Mineola courthouse.

She and Kedeemah Morris, 22, another sister, wore tribute shirts depicting a smiling Khaseen and a likeness of his skateboard — drawn in the anime style he loved.

"We're just trying to stay strong. I know that's what we wants us to do. … He can't fight right now so we're going to fight for him," added Keyanna Morris, 30.

Authorities have alleged Khaseen Morris died after Tyler Flach, 18, of Lido Beach, stabbed him once in the chest during a fight at about 3:45 p.m. on Sept. 16 at a Brower Avenue strip mall in Oceanside.

Flach, who faces a murder charge, was among a group of males who charged at Morris and his friends before a melee ensued in which Flach stabbed Morris and a 17-year-old male victim suffered a broken arm and a head injury, according to law enforcement officials. 

Police said Khaseen Morris went to the location of the fight knowing the ex-boyfriend of a girl he was friendly with wanted to confront him. The Morris family has said he had texted the ex-boyfriend to say he wasn't dating the girl but had walked her home from a party.

Flach, who maintains his innocence and is jailed without bail, will be arraigned Oct. 31 on the same indictment.

It accuses him of felony offenses of second-degree murder and first-degree gang assault, along with misdemeanor assault and weapon charges.

The indictment charges that seven Long Beach teenagers committed second-degree gang assault by intentionally causing serious physical injury to Morris, while aided by at least two others in that group or others at the scene.

The indictment also alleges that Flach and the other seven defendants committed third-degree assault by intentionally injuring the 17-year-old victim.

One of two 16-year-old males who are among the accused pleaded not guilty later Tuesday in a Youth Part courtroom in Hempstead as the Morris family looked on. Judge Conrad Singer kept the teen's bond at $25,000 and ordered him back to court next month.

"The indictment is clear that my client was not involved in the stabbing in any way, shape or form," the 16-year-old's attorney, Scott Gross, said later.

The other 16-year-old is scheduled for an arraignment later this week. Another one of the seven defendants, Haakim Mechan, 19, is scheduled for arraignment on Monday after previously pleading not guilty at a post-arrest court appearance.

Stephens' attorney, William Kephart, said Tuesday the indictment "makes it very clear" his client "had nothing at all" to do with Morris' slaying and added that he looked forward to the prosecution turning over evidence shortly.

Lawrence Carrà, the attorney for Neals, said the prosecution indicated they had "extensive discovery" — or evidence — to hand over that he expected would include video of "some of the defendants prior to the incident" along with video "of the incident itself" that surfaced on social media.

Merritt's lawyer, Dennis Lemke, said his client "denies the allegations and having anything to do with" Morris' death. 

Woodruff's lawyer, Donald Rollock, said there were "different levels of culpability in this situation," adding that his client "had nothing to do" with Morris' death and was "a good kid caught up in a really bad situation."

A Nassau district attorney's office spokesman said prosecutors had no comment Tuesday.

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