Five years ago, the fatal beating of Edgar Garzon, a gay man, as he walked home from a bar in Jackson Heights sent tremors through the gay community in Queens. But the crime soon faded from public attention after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The police said they did not forget, and on Wednesday night they arrested John L. McGhee, 38, at Kennedy International Airport, as he stepped off a plane from London. Mr. McGhee, an ex-convict, was charged with murder, manslaughter and attempted robbery, the authorities said.
The police said that Mr. McGhee fled the United States for England soon after the beating of Mr. Garzon. It is unclear when Mr. McGhee became a suspect, but in the last year detectives in New York, acting on tips, tracked him to London and began cooperating with their British counterparts, law enforcement officials said.
When Mr. McGhee applied for citizenship there — and lied on his application by not revealing his criminal history — there was an opportunity to bring him home, the officials said. Authorities in London told Mr. McGhee to leave England or face prosecution there, the officials said.
On Aug. 15, 2001, Mr. Garzon, 35, a restaurant owner, had been walking home from the Friends Tavern, a gay bar, when two men followed him in a red car, officials said. They said one of the men beat him with a blunt object and fractured his skull. Mr. Garzon went into a coma, then died on Sept. 4, 2001.
A law enforcement official said that elements of the beating, including the fact that Mr. Garzon made a comment to one of the men about wanting a date, according to a witness at the time, led to theories that it was a hate crime.
Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney, said yesterday that prosecutors were still investigating the murder as a "possible hate crime."
Detectives from the 115th Precinct in Jackson Heights, led by Detective Daniel Corey, led the push to find Mr. Garzon's killer, officials said yesterday. Mr. Garzon's father, Armando Garzon, 72, praised the police yesterday, saying that they had "persisted in solving the case that in the beginning lacked substantial evidence — only a video snippet of a red car," he said.
Details of Mr. McGhee's life in London were not available yesterday, except that he lived, at some point, in a house by a park in London and was unemployed at the time he left, according to officials. His history of arrests in the United States stretched back to 1987, though the details of those arrests, at least five in New York, were not immediately known.
At some point before Mr. McGhee left for London, he bragged of the killing to a friend, officials said.
Mr. Garzon's father, who splits his time now between his native country, Colombia, and New York, said his son, a restaurateur, was a "happy, carefree man who never had a single enemy." Speaking in Spanish, he spoke proudly of his son's accomplishments, and said that he and his family "have focused on persisting."
"The murder trial and its resolution will give me final peace of mind," he said.
- AP: Man arrested 5 years after Queens attack on gay man (June 29, 2006)
- New York Daily News: Arrest in gay killing after five long years (June 30, 2006)
- Newsday: Arrest in '01 slay of gay man (June 30, 2006)
- New York Post: '01 'Gay-Bash Killer' Gets Caught at JFK (June 30, 2006)
- Gothamist.com: Five year old murder gets an arrest (June 30, 2006)