The DNA expert who was presented by defense attorneys in the trial of a man charged with participating in the violent beating of a gay black man was thrown out of court by a Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice.
On December 1, 2013, 22-year-old Taj Patterson was walking home on Flushing Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn when he was assaulted by a gang of men associated with a Hasidic neighborhood watch group known as the Shomrim. The men were responding to a report that someone in the area had been vandalizing cars. That report later turned out to be false.
Patterson testified that he was chased by three Hasidic Jewish men who were screaming “something negative” at him. Additional men joined the attack. Patterson recalled, “I was trying to stop cars, two or three, to get them to help. I banged on the windows asking for help, but they kept driving. There were 20 people behind me. … I gave up.”
Prosecutors claim that the members of the Shomrim mistook Patterson for the vandal and beat him so badly that he lost vision in his right eye. The responding police officers spoke to four witnesses at the scene and obtained the license plate of a car that was used by attackers to flee. The case was quickly closed, but reopened when Patterson’s mother went to the press with her son’s story.
In April 2014, Abraham Winkler, Pinchas Braver, Joseph Fried, Aharon Hollender, and Mayer Herskovic were arrested and charged with Patterson’s assault. Winkler and Braver made a deal with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, pleading guilty to a reduced charge of unlawful imprisonment. The prosecutors dismissed all charges against Fried and Hollender, stating that the witnesses who had originally identified them had recanted. Only Herskovic’s trial is still pending.
At Herskovic’s trial, Patterson testified that he was able to strike one punch at the leader of the group, breaking his glasses. He stated that, “That same individual who stood in the middle of the three men kicked me in the face, the ringleader.”
Patterson was unable to identify Herskovic as one of his assailants, but the prosecution was able to link Herskovic to the crime based with “touch DNA” evidence that was found on the heel of the shoe that Patterson was wearing on the night of his attack. Patterson’s sneaker was hurled onto the roof of a nearby building after two passersby intervened in the attack.
Herskovic’s legal team brought in Arthur Young, a forensic scientist, to challenge the legitimacy of the DNA evidence. Lead prosecutor Timothy Gough challenged Young’s status as an expert, asking, “Has there ever been a time when you were not declared an expert?” When Young responded that there was a time that he was not admitted as an expert in Staten Island, prosecution questioned him further. Eventually, Young admitted that he had been fired from multiple jobs, that he had embellished his qualifications, and that his website made some incorrect statements about his expertise.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun dismissed Young and instructed the defense team that it had 24 hours to find another DNA expert.
Herskovic faces up to 25 years in prison if he is convicted.