By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — A Manhattan jury has found a Chinatown teen not guilty on all charges related to a stabbing death in a Hester Street melee last November.
Victor Fong, 18, was accused of murdering Nelson Pena, 18, and slashing another teen during a street fight where Fong and two friends were jumped by a group of other teens.
When the verdict was coming down "my heart was pounding," Fong said. "I'm happy, obviously."
On the witness stand at trial, Fong admitted to slashing 17-year-old Vincent Rivera in the neck in self-defense, but denied any involvement in the fatal stabbing of Pena.
Video evidence presented at his one-week trial showed Fong was on one side of the street in a scuffle with Rivera and was not near where Pena was stabbed.
Fong was charged with second-degree murder, attempted murder and two assault chargers. He was found not guilty on all counts.
He faced up to life in prison if convicted on the murder charge.
One of Fong's lawyers, Robert Brown, praised the jurors for evaluating the evidence and arriving at an acquittal.
"An innocent man was set free today and I couldn't be happier. This is why we have the system that we have in this country," Brown said.
Jurors reached their verdict after about three hours of deliberations that began at the end of the day Monday and resumed Tuesday morning.
One alternate juror, who asked that his name not be used, called the trial a "very disturbing case."
The 40-year-old juror, a teacher who lives in Harlem, called the prosecutor's case "pretty weak and full of doubt." He added that he was "happy for Victor" for standing up to his aggressors in the fight, and said he almost cried during Fong's testimony.
"I was kind of impressed by his character," the man said of Fong's testimony. By comparison, he thought the prosecutor's witnesses with alleged gang affiliations were "losers."
The sentiment was echoed by two other female jurors who also asked not to be identified because of the gang members affiliated with the case.
Both of the women said they felt sad that the verdict left the family of Nelson Pena without any closure in his death. But they said the insufficient evidence linking Fong to the murder left them with no choice but to acquit him, for fear of putting an innocent man behind bars.
"Stories of the people who did take the stand were inconsistent at best," one of the female jurors said. "In the end we all decided he was not guilty. It's not appropriate to put the wrong person behind bars."