BY DUNCAN OSBORNE
A Brooklyn man who was convicted in November for slashing or stabbing two men with a knife and menacing a third man near a Bedford-Stuyvesant LGBTQ nightclub was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
“It is clear that his conduct was not in self-defense,” Judge Donald Leo said at the February 1 sentencing of James Thomas in Brooklyn Supreme Court. “This is a circumstance of uncontrollable rage.”
Thomas, 34, had originally faced multiple felony and misdemeanor counts with some charged as hate crimes in the 2017 attack, but the hate crime counts in two of the assaults were dropped after grand jury testimony did not support them. At the start of Thomas’ trial, prosecutors expected the third man to testify and support the hate crime charges, but that man ultimately refused to take the witness stand. Those hate crime charges were dropped after the prosecution rested its case.
Thomas was always going to have a difficult winning an acquittal. The jury was shown video of him making some of the attacks, then he elected to take the stand and testify that he was acting in self-defense when he slashed one man in the face, menaced a second, and stabbed a third man twice. By saying he was defending himself, he had to admit that he made the attacks he was charged with.
Under New York law, when a defendant claims he or she acted in self-defense, prosecutors are required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant was not justified in using physical force.
“This was a terrifying attack carried out for no reason that left three innocent men traumatized,” Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney, said in a statement. “I am committed to protecting all of the people of Brooklyn from such brutal violence. Today’s sentence holds the defendant accountable.”
Before trial, Kelli Muse, chief of the Hate Crimes Bureau in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, and Peter Choi, an assistant district attorney, offered Thomas a sentence of 12 years in prison and five years post-release supervision in exchange for a guilty plea to assault and misdemeanor charges. At sentencing, Choi asked for 16 years and five years post-release supervision.
Barry Krinsky, Thomas’ attorney, argued that Thomas had been released on bail prior to trial and had consistently made his court appearances. He also treated Leo respectfully throughout the proceedings.
“The problem is that behavior doesn’t reflect his behavior in spring 2017,” Leo said.
In asking for the “minimum amount allowable under law,” Krinsky noted that Thomas had been employed, enjoyed the continued support of his family and friends, some of whom attended the sentencing, and had a career as a rapper. Thomas used the stage name Mousey Baby and did not have a successful career.
As Leo announced his sentence on each of the five counts that Thomas was convicted on, the question was would he serve those sentences concurrently or consecutively. Leo used a mix of concurrent and consecutive sentences, but when he announced the 21-year total, a Thomas supporter said “Oh my God” and could be heard weeping. As his friends and family left the courtroom, one man yelled out, “Love you, Mouse, love you.”