In an unusual twist in the alleged East Harlem murder of Long Island motivational speaker Jeffrey Locker last year, Manhattan prosecutors may have to go back to a grand jury after admitting that "some evidence" supports the theory that it was an assisted suicide.
Defendant Kenneth Minor, 36, told police after his arrest last July the bizarre story that Locker, 52, of Woodmere, had asked him to pull a "Kevorkian" - to help stab himself to death so that his family could collect life insurance. The claim was derided at the time, and Minor was charged with murder and robbery. Prosecutors said he strangled and stabbed Locker and stole his ATM card.
But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman has set a Feb. 24 court date to consider ordering a new grand jury presentation after prosecutors acknowledged that Locker had recently accumulated "large financial debts," bought "numerous" life insurance policies, changed beneficiaries and researched funeral arrangements - all consistent with Minor's story.
Defense lawyer Daniel Gotlin, who asked the judge to intervene at a hearing Wednesday, said in an interview that the life insurance was worth $10 million to $12 million.
He said his grand jury request was "unusual." But he wants prosecutors from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to consider charges of manslaughter and assisting a suicide - which would reduce the possible guilty sentence from life to 15 years - given the "unique" circumstances of the case.
"I told the judge that a new and fresh grand jury should hear all the evidence, and the prosecutor should submit different charges," Gotlin said. "It's really moving toward a suicide."
Erin Duggan, a Vance spokeswoman, said prosecutors had reached no conclusion but "the investigation is continuing." At the Locker family's home in Woodmere yesterday, his relatives refused to comment. Locker was married and a father of three.
Locker, a motivational speaker who tried to bring spiritual values to businesses, was found bound and stabbed several times in his car July 19. He had called his family to say he had a flat tire. Police theorized that he had been set up by a prostitute and tortured for his ATM PIN. Minor was arrested July 21.
Minor told police that Locker approached him on the street and asked for his help in a suicide, offering the ATM card as payment and saying that another man had ripped off all his cash after agreeing to the same deal. Minor said Locker told him of financial woes. He said that he bound Locker's hands at his direction and held a knife while Locker lunged into it.
On Dec. 31, in a letter to Gotlin, prosecutors admitted they had found evidence that "tends to lend some support" to Minor's claim - including new life insurance policies "within the two-year contestability period," during which they won't pay out for a suicide.
Gotlin said Minor had told police facts about Locker's financial life that he had no way of knowing unless Locker told him.
With Matt Chayes and AP