(JTA) — A New York state appeals court overturned the conviction of a Hasidic Jewish man who was found guilty in the beating of a gay black man.
The Second Judicial Department Appellate Division on Wednesday overturned Mayer Herskovic’s conviction from last year in the beating of Taj Patterson, who became blind in one eye as a result of the beating he sustained in December 2013, The New York Times reported.
Herskovic, 24, has spent the past year in prison after being found guilty by a Brooklyn State Supreme Court justice of second-degree gang assault, unlawful imprisonment and menacing charges. He had opted for a bench trial.
But the appeals court, in an unusual move, said there was not enough evidence to convict Herskovic, The Times reported.
He was one of five Hasidic men indicted in the assault in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, which has a large haredi Orthodox population.
Of the four other alleged assailants, two had the charges dropped and two others — Pinchas Braver and Abraham Winkler — pleaded guilty to downgraded charges in August. Braver and Winkler were required to pay Patterson $1,400 in restitution and perform 150 hours of community service in a “culturally diverse” neighborhood.
Patterson was attacked as he walked home from a friend’s birthday in Williamsburg, according to trial testimony.
In June, Patterson sued the New York Police Department and New York City in federal court, claiming they improperly favored the Shomrim, the Orthodox security patrol to which some of the five alleged assailants belonged, and at the patrol’s request prematurely closed the investigation of the assault.
In their decision, the appellate judges said that Patterson had failed to identify his assailants and that the DNA evidence used by the prosecutors to convict Herskovic was “less than convincing.”
While appeals courts sometimes dismiss a guilty verdict and order a defendant to be retried, it is much less common for an appellate panel to toss out a conviction on the facts, which leads automatically to the underlying indictment being dismissed.
But the judges for the Second Judicial Department Appellate Division used their “independent factual review power” to render what amounted to a post-trial acquittal.
“Mayer is overjoyed,” Herskovic’s lawyer, Donna Aldea, said. “The decision means that, for all intents and purposes, he is innocent.”
Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, said, “We respect the court’s decision.”
A lawsuit that Patterson’s lawyer, Andrew Stoll, filed two years ago against city officials for allegedly stalling the investigation into his beating is still pending in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
“Our civil suit continues against the city for the ‘get out of jail free’ cards it hands out to the ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn,” Stoll said.