NEW YORK -- A simmering dispute over the defense of a youth on trial in the gang rape of a woman jogger erupted Monday when his mother and sister refused to be witnesses in his defense.
Ripping out the heart of the defense case, the mother of Kevin Richardson, Grace Cuffee, and his sister, Angela Cuffee, angrily told defense lawyer Howard Diller that they would not cooperate with him.
After a private conference with Justice Thomas Galligan in his chambers at state Supreme Court in Manhattan, Diller said the judge told him to 'do the best with what you've got.'
Diller had planned to argue that Richardson, 16, was tricked into making a confession by police who repeatedly promised he could go home if he made incriminating statements. His mother and sister were both at the precinct on the night of his arrest and were expected to be the prime defense witnesses.
Richardson and Kharey Wise, 18, are on trial on charges they beat and raped a woman jogger, whose name has not been published because of the nature of the crime, in Central Park on April 19, 1989. They also are accused of beating and robbing two male joggers, John Loughlin, 42, and David Lewis, 32.
Three other youths were convicted of the charges last summer and are serving 5 to 10 year jail sentences.
The Richardson family's bizarre decision to quit the defense case came just days after the family fired Diller and hired C. Vernon Mason. Because the move came during an ongoing trial and Mason wanted to pick an entirely new jury, Galligan refused to allow the switch.
'It's difficult, it's unpleasant,' said Diller, now faced with creating a new defense strategy.
'I'm here to protect Kevin's rights. If his family doesn't want to protect his rights, that's very sad. By doing what they're doing, they are hurting Kevin's case,' Diller said.
Since firing Diller on Oct. 24, the family has been in close contact with Mason. The black activist lawyer is best known for advising Tawana Brawley, the black teen who claimed she was raped by six white men. Acting on his advise, Brawley refused to cooperate with authorities investigating her claims. A state grand jury subsequently found her story was a hoax.
Last week, Mason said the family fired Diller because he has said he would not grill the woman jogger when she testifies.
A family friend, Lamont Radcliff, also said they were upset that Diller had no plans to question why the jogger's boyfriend is not a suspect in the rape case.
During testimony Monday, Officer Robert Powers recalled tackling a fleeing Richardson and arresting him in the park. Another youth, Clarence Thomas, also was arrested but he was never indicted.
Both were on their way to the precinct in a police cruiser when a crying Thomas suddenly blurted out, 'I know who did the murdering!' Powers testified.
'Kevin said, 'Yeah, I know who it is. And I'll tell you where he lives,'' the officer said.
The victim they were referring to was Loughlin, who was knocked unconscious in the attack, Powers said. The assailant was Antron McCray, 16, one of the teens convicted last summer, he testified.