Mark Carson died on a New York street after being shot in the face by total stranger Elliot Morales. Morales was accused of murder as a hate crime because his victim was gay, but he claimed he’d shot him in self-defence. But had he..?
One evening in May 2013, police were called to a chaotic scene in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Mark Carson, 32, from Brooklyn, lay bleeding in the street – shot in the face by stranger Elliot Morales, 36, as he strolled with his friend Danny Robinson, 34.
Officers chased gunman Morales through the streets, finally managing to disarm him and pin him to the ground.
Whilst being restrained, a heavily intoxicated Morales laughed maniacally and yelled, ‘I shot him… Diagnosis dead, doctor.’ In addition, an arresting officer’s camera phone also captured him licking the pavement.
Although Mark Carson was taken to hospital, he was pronounced dead.
The fun-loving young man, who’d worked at an ice-cream kiosk at Grand Central Station, hadn’t stood a chance.
An autopsy showed he’d died immediately after a bullet from Morales’ gun had passed straight through his cheek and severed his brain stem.
His tragic death came amid a spate of violence against gay men in New York, and sparked protests in the city.
Morales, who’d previously served 11 years in prison for armed robbery, had been boozing on the day of the shooting. He was accused of drunkenly rampaging through gay-friendly Greenwich Village, spewing anti-gay slurs at various men, including Mark and Danny.
Morales had allegedly demanded of Mark, ‘Is he your boy?’
It was claimed that, when Mark nodded, Morales had deliberately shot him.
But Morales vigorously denied accusations of homophobia. He claimed he couldn’t be homophobic because he was bisexual himself.
He insisted he’d acted out of fear in self-defence when Mark and Danny had followed him round a corner to continue their argument after he’d drunkenly insulted them both.
He said he’d fired at random to protect himself after seeing Mark reach into his pocket for what he assumed was a gun.
He said he’d never meant to hurt anyone – that he’d certainly never set out to target gay men.
On trial at Manhattan’s State Supreme Court in March this year, with Mark’s aunts Florine and Deborah Bumpars present, Morales pleaded not guilty to murder as a hate crime.
Representing himself after rejecting four different court-appointed lawyers, he appeared calm and composed.
‘I’m a human being like everyone else,’ he said. ‘I made my share of mistakes. That doesn’t make me a bad person.’
He rejected the police account of him gloating over the shooting directly afterwards, insisting he didn’t kill Mark either intentionally or out of hate.
‘I’m not a bigot,’ he wept.
However, Mark’s friend Danny told the court the encounter began when Morales walked past the two men calling them ‘faggots’ and ‘queers’, and saying they looked like gay wrestlers in their shorts and vests.
CCTV footage shown to the jury captured this exchange, with the two men choosing to come back to Morales and confront him.
‘It was Mark doing most of the talking,’ Danny told the court.
As Morales was defending himself, he was allowed to cross-examine Danny about that evening.
During the ensuing exchange, he blamed Danny and Mark for ‘escalating’ the conflict, saying they should have just ignored his taunts.
‘Is it possible that what happened was a reaction to the threat that was put on my own life when you followed me around a corner?’ Morales asked Danny.
He said he’d thought Mark was reaching for a gun at one point, although Danny claimed he’d simply reached for his phone to call the police.
Morales claimed he’d never aimed his gun at Mark, but had instead turned around to run, firing as his arm flailed out.
The manager of a nearby restaurant, told of an earlier altercation with Morales that evening…
He said that, after relieving himself in the restaurant window in front of diners, Morales had run inside, yelling anti-gay insults.
But Morales continued to deny that he was homophobic, revealing he’d slept with transgender women and was bisexual.
He even called his long-term lover – a transgender woman using the alias Jane Smith – to the witness stand.
He asked her whether she’d ever seen him display ill feeling towards gay people.
‘Not that I can recall,’ she replied.
But the prosecution claimed Morales never went out in public with his transgender lovers.
It was also suggested he was full of self-loathing as well as jealousy towards openly gay men, such as Mark Carson.
During his closing remarks to the jury, Morales insisted that the shooting ‘was not a deliberate act. It was moreso a reaction to a perceived threat on my life’.
He also criticised paramedics for not doing enough to save Mark’s life at the scene.
So what was the truth?
Had Morales really feared for his life and fired his gun as an automatic response?
Or had he slaughtered Mark Carson in cold blood simply because he was gay?
The jury rejected Morales’ claims that his bisexuality meant he couldn’t have committed the hate crime.
They found him guilty of second-degree murder as a hate crime and weapons possession.
Sentencing him to 40 years without parole, judge Justice Bartley said that Morales’ ability to appear ‘calm, intelligent, well prepared, well behaved’ couldn’t deter from the fact he also seemed to be ‘something worthy of a character in a Stephen King novel – in short, a monster’.
After the trial, Mark’s aunt Florine Bumpars said, ‘I feel like I got justice for my nephew. It’s closure.’