A young gay man who blamed years of bullying for causing him to stab a fellow high school student to death was sentenced Tuesday to 14 years in prison for his crimes.
Abel Cedeno was an 18-year-old student at the Urban Assembly for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx when he in September 2017 killed his 14-year-old schoolmate, Matthew McCree. He also grievously wounded another student, Ariane Laboy.
In July, New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gross found Cedeno guilty of first-degree manslaughter, first-degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
Outside of the Bronx courtroom, Cedeno’s case became “something of a cause célèbre,” according to The New York Times. LGBT activists rallied to his defense, holding him up as a symbol of how young people face “homophobic” persecution. Some argued that the school should have taken action against his bullies.
Two gay lawyers, Christopher Lynn and Robert Feldman, represented Cedeno at no charge, dubbing his a “gay pride trial.”
Several local elected officials also supported Cedeno, including City Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr., who had been criticized for making homophobic remarks. Diaz helped Cedeno post bail soon after he was charged and later wrote a letter to the judge urging leniency in his sentencing.
The trial of Abel Cedeno
During the trial, it emerged that Cedeno had bought an illegal switchblade online. The lead prosecutor, Nancy Borko, told Justice Michael Gross that Cedeno had practiced with the blade and was looking for a fight with “his trusty new knife.”
Cedeno testified that he bought the switchblade to protect himself after the prolonged anti-gay abuse and that he had acted in self-defense. At the same time, though, Cedeno acknowledged that Matthew and Laboy were not among his tormenters and that he had not really known them.
On the day of the crime, Cedeno said, students were throwing crumpled pieces of paper and broken pencils that he thought were aimed at him. So, he got into a defensive position and brandished the knife.
Other students testified that Cedeno started the fight and that he was the one who used anti-gay slurs.
Darcel Clark, the Bronx district attorney, said in a statement Tuesday: “There was no evidence at trial that Matthew McCree or Ariane Laboy had ever bullied the defendant. His explosion of rage has left so many lives in ruins, including his own.”
At the sentencing hearing, Matthew’s aunt, Lacey Providence, emotionally when detectives told her and Matthew’s mother at a Bronx hospital how the boy had died. She said she would never forget seeing his body on a gurney, saying it was “drenched in blood with a cut so deep I could see his ribs.”
Laboy’s mother, Felicia Laboy, also spoke at the hearing. She said the attack “devastated my son and deeply affected my family.” Ariane Laboy is now home-schooled because his hand was injured so badly that he cannot hold a pen, she said.
“There is no pain equal to that of a mother who has lost her child to unexpected violence,” Felicia Laboy said of Matthew’s death. “The order of the universe is reversed.”
In part to bring justice to the victims, Boko, the prosecutor, urged Justice Gross to sentence Cedeno to 30 years. She said the attack was “intentional” and that Cedeno had shown little remorse while trying to minimize his actions.
Lynn, Cedeno’s attorney, countered that his client had accepted responsibility for his crime, and said he was not dangerous. He noted that Cedeno had no previous criminal history and that prominent people had vouched for his potential to be a productive citizen.
For his part, Cedeno told the judge that he had changed in the two years since the attack and that he regretted the pain he had caused.
“I know that I was the one who brought in a knife,” he said, adding: “I wish I could take it all back.”
Gross declined a request by Cedeno’s lawyers that their client be treated as a youthful offender and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. While Gross believed Cedeno was bullied, that did not grant him “license for murderous rage,” he said.
Throughout the testimonies and the sentencing, Cedeno, sporting dyed-red hair and a pink shirt, showed little emotion.
His was the first fatal attack in a New York City school in over two decades.