Thursday, September 11, 2008

Breaking News: McGhee guilty of 2nd degree murder in killing of Edgar Garzon

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Eddie Garzon. I'm not sure when the 35mm picture above was taken but it looks like the New York City harbor and it must have been close to the time at which the young Colombian man decided to move to the United States to seek new opportunities.

Of course, Eddie is no longer with us. On August 15th, 2001, as he walked home from spending a night at the gay bars of Roosevelt Avenue with friends, he was viciously attacked and left for dead in the dark of night on a peaceful tree-lined block lined with medium-sized apartment buildings. Eddie, who I knew as a friend, would never regain consciousness. He remained in a coma for two weeks and a half - and passed away on September 4th, 2001.

Originally, I was going to write about the memorial mass and vigil that his family organized on Sunday evening to observe the 7th anniversary of his passing (that's Leonor and Armando Garzon, right, during the vigil).

Amazingly, more than fifty people showed up - between friends of the family and those who knew Eddie, political leaders and those who had heard of his death but never met him.

It also turned out to be a cozier affair than the memorials of years past in part because Leonor let those present stand up and tell stories about her son which she said helped her to celebrate her son's life even if she was hearing some of these stories for the first time.

Movingly, at the end of the mass, Leonor turned to her husband and thanked him publicly, for being next to her for so many years, for giving her three such beautiful children and for giving her the joy of being a mother which had sustained her through tragic of circumstances.

In the most heartbreaking moment of the night, Armando stood up and, in a broken voice, thanked those of us who were present and said he had never been able to be as strong as his wife and that sometimes the thought of losing his son was too painful to even vocalize. They embraced each other to applause and tears before we all filed out and joined them in the candlelight vigil. I have more photos of the vigil here.

On 9/11 (2008), a guilty verdict: This morning I woke up to a live broadcast of some who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center reading the names of the lost. As with Eddie's murder, it has been seven years since the attacks and - while some have moved on - I couldn't help but to catch myself becoming emotional and, for lack of a better word, glad that the memorial was being broadcast live as a raw reminder of that awful September morning.

Following Eddie's murder and the 9/11 attacks one memory that remains indelible is that the weekly gay news publication Gay City News (then called LGNY) ran a special double-cover issue: News of Eddie's murder was on one side and a photo of openly gay NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge, who died in the 9/11 attacks, was on the other.

Among all publications, the team behind LGNY/GCN have assiduously, tenaciously followed the case of Eddie's murder over the years, so it was not a surprise that GCN reporter Duncan Osbourne was the first one to e-mail me today to tell me that a jury had just declared John L. McGhee guilty of murder in the 2nd degree earlier today (just as former GCN reporter Michael Meenan - then writing for The New York Times - tipped me off to McGhee's 2006 arrest).

You see, even as the Garzon family was observing the anniversary of their son's death on Sunday, a jury was deciding whether a man was guilty of his murder for the second time (a first trial ended when the judge declared a mistrial). Today, in surprisingly quick fashion, they declared him guilty (see this and this report from Gay City News)

In my posts about Eddie I have tried to be careful not to link up 9/11 and his murder to avoid insulting any family member who mourns those who died in the Twin Towers but today I am re-posting an October 3, 2001 Newsday editorial in its entirety (it's no longer available online):

Don't Let Jackson Heights Gay Murder Be Forgotten
Seven days before thousands of New Yorkers perished at the hands of suicide hijackers, Edgar Garzon met an equally senseless fate. He died from wounds sustained in a bias attack in Jackson Heights. He had been beaten into a coma with a baseball bat or lead pipe three weeks earlier - because he was gay.

The police, who are actively pursuing leads in the case, have not forgotten about Garzon. Let's hope no one else has either, especially public officials whose duty is to remind residents that brutally attacking people because of their sexual orientation is outrageous and unacceptable.

A Colombia native, Garzon settled in Queens' largest gay community in Jackson Heights. Some residents believe that the borough, no matter how tolerant of its wide diversity, is more susceptible to this kind of bias attack than a lot of people might assume.

In fact, another bias killing horrified the gay community 11 years before, when Julio Rivera was beaten to death a block away from where Garzon was attacked in mid-August. That high-profile murder helped galvanize the community and heighten its social and political influence, culminating this year with the opening of the borough's first two gay community centers – in Corona and Woodside - and an openly gay candidate for City Council, Jimmy Van Bramer, finishing second in the multi-candidate District 25 race.

For now, there's a $15,000 reward for information leading to Garzon's killers, including $10,000 from the city. Community leaders also hope to reschedule a town-hall meeting with police officials that was originally planned for Sept. 12, a day after the World Trade Center terror attack.

Gay residents' fear and anxiety are just as real today. So it's up to law enforcement and elected officials to put their minds at ease.
That says anything I could say much better than I ever could. The crime was at risk of being forgotten in the wake of 9/11 and it certainly was thanks to efforts from his family, community leaders, political leaders and police detectives that kept Eddie's memory in their hearts that today's verdict was possible.



Unknown said...

Actually, that's Miami's skyline in the background. :D

Blabbeando said...

Gracias Alex!

Nettie Marquez said...

I knew & loved Eddie Garcon. Eddie & I worked together on a video for the Children's Televison Network on childhood asthma. He was a tireless professional. He always had a smile & a compliment for everyone everyday.
I went to the first vigil in 2001. I also attended his wake with his beautiful parents. It was very painful.
For months we tried to find out what the police were doing... we never knew.
Now I know. Thank You for giving us closure with your article about the conviction. Just one conviction? We thought there were 3 men involved.
Again, Thank You.