A Suffolk jury acquitted a Brentwood man Friday evening of first-degree manslaughter, finding that he was acting in self-defense when he beat another man to death outside a Huntington bar more than three years ago.
Samuel White, 35, exhaled deeply when he heard the not guilty verdict, and then embraced his attorney, Christopher Gioe, after the jury left the Riverhead courtroom.
“Good luck, Mr. White,” state Supreme Court Justice William Condon said.
“They’ve seen the facts,” a relieved White said afterward. “But somebody did pass away. It’s upsetting. It’s always going to bother me.”
Prosecutors declined to comment.
White was on trial for a brief fight that took place in the street in the early hours of May 25, 2016. The fight left Edwin Rivera, 39, of Bay Shore, mortally wounded.
The fight happened after Valerie Holloway, the woman White was with that night, texted and called her ex-boyfriend, Rivera, to tell him she was out with another man and where they were. Both sides agreed that Rivera came looking for them and initiated the confrontation, but differed on what happened after Rivera got out of his Mercedes-Benz and advanced toward White.
“I think that the jury had the opportunity to view the events of that evening through Mr. White’s eyes, and saw he had to react that way,” Gioe said. “Our thoughts and prayers will always belong with the Rivera family.”
During about eight hours of deliberations over two days, jurors studied surveillance video of the fight, watched a video of White’s tearful explanation to homicide detectives of what happened, and had Condon explain the law on self-defense four times. Moments after the last explanation, they reached their verdict.
Afterward, in the courthouse lobby, jurors spoke on the condition that they not be identified.
“It was tough,” one juror said.
“This was an innocent guy put in this situation,” another juror said. Some jurors said they thought homicide detectives, in questioning a distraught White, took advantage of him even after he wondered if he needed a lawyer. Still, White continued answering detectives’ questions.
In his closing argument Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Daryl Levy told jurors that White had no reason to believe his life was in danger from the larger, heavier and angry Rivera, describing the physically fit White as “180 pounds of pure rock.”
Levy compared Rivera’s battered face, numerous broken facial bones and collapsed airway to White’s condition after the fight.
“Show me a single mark on this man’s body that shows this was the fight of his life,” said Levy, who then showed an autopsy photo of Rivera’s face to the jury. “You don’t get to do this because someone punched your shoulder,” referring to the first blow of the fight, landed by Rivera.
If White was in fear of Rivera, Levy said, he could have and should have just gotten in his unlocked car and left.
But Gioe told jurors that his client did exactly that as soon as he felt safe.
“Once the threat was neutralized, what did Sammy do? He walked away,” Gioe said.
In the moment that Rivera drove up, got out of his car and advanced on White, Gioe said his client was taken by surprise and had no idea who Rivera was or what could happen next.
He said the fight lasted only 15 seconds — not enough time, Gioe said, to think about when to stop swinging.