MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Two dozen family, friends and educators asked a judge Tuesday to show leniency for Harlem twins convicted of conspiracy charges because they were still dealing with the police shooting death of their brother, Ramarley Graham.
Hodean and Kadean Graham, 19, were both convicted June 19 on charges of conspiracy for being part of a gang that imported, sold and used powerful and illegal weapons in Harlem. Their half-brother, Ramarley Graham, 18, was shot dead by NYPD Officer Richard Haste in February after he was chased from White Plains Road and East 228th Street to his home nearby by cops who were investigating a reported drug deal.
"With the death of their brother in February at the hands of a member of the NYPD, these brothers have suffered greater loss in the last month than most can begin to ever imagine," Jessica Gusberg, a social worker who has worked with the family, said in one of 22 letters submitted to the court.
"This family has had to withstand a kind of grief unthinkable to most," Gusberg continued. "Certainly, this uniquely painful experience mitigates a conventional approach to sentencing."
The letters calling the twins "humble" and "kind" contrasted with the recommendation from District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.'s office that the teens serve the maximum four-year sentence. Vance said that although the gang was made up of young members, including the Grahams, it evolved into a highly organized group that was involved with multiple shootings in Central Harlem.
In court on Tuesday, with their wrists handcuffed behind their backs, the twins smiled at their family as lawyers entered the letters into the record.
Attorney Neville Mitchell asked for the sentencing to be adjourned so the court could examine the letters and so that he could file a motion requesting that the convictions be tossed out. Mitchell believes the more than 20 objections from the assistant district attorneys during closing arguments for the Grahams damaged their right to due process.
McLaughlin ordered that the twins continued to be held without bail until sentencing. Both sides return to court Aug. 22.
The lawyers and the family see Ramarley Graham's death and a civil lawsuit the Graham family filed against police for brutality and harassment as mitigating circumstances in the case.
The twins' attorneys brought up Ramarley Graham's name and the civil lawsuit multiple times during the trial. The twins were convicted of conspiracy but found not guilty on charges of attempted murder and weapons possession.
Haste, 31, pleaded not guilty June 13 to manslaughter charges in Ramarley's death.
Franclot Graham, father to the twins and Ramarley, said he hopes to address the court before his sons are sentenced.
"These kids made a mistake when they were boys. They have changed their lives for the better. They know what they did was wrong," Graham said after Tuesday's hearing. "I want the judge to think about these two men and how much of a difference he can make in their lives."
Constance Malcolm, Ramarley's mother, also wrote a letter of support for the twins.
"I am convinced that both boys have accepted responsibility for their actions and are ready to live out their changed view of life," Malcolm said.
A cousin, Salena Brown, said the twins, called "Peter and Paul" by their family, regret their mistakes.
"Peter and Paul are remorseful of the destructive path they took during their early teenage years," Brown wrote.
Germaine Bennett, the boys' aunt, put it most simply in her letter: "I hereby beg for mercy for my nephews," she wrote.
The twins were both enrolled at Onondaga Community College in upstate New York. Several of their teachers wrote letters of support.
Jerry Farnett described Hodean as being "at the top of the class." After Ramarley's death, Hodean stayed in school at the behest of his mother.
"Despite the tremendous grief he felt, Mr. Graham honored the wishes of his mother and remained in school," Farnett wrote. He added that the "worst thing that could happen would be to send Hodean to prison and stifle his intellectual curiosity."
Another teacher described seeing Hodean run out of the room after the class watched the Oscar-winning film "Crash." In one scene a young man in the film went to the morgue to identify his younger brother who had been shot dead by police.
"I found him in the men's bathroom weeping," wrote English professor Christopher Altman. "He saw me and tried to hide his tears."
After viewing the movie, Hodean wrote a paper comparing the death of the young man in the film to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Ramarley Graham, Altman wrote.
"The question at hand is this: Is Hodean Graham a productive member of society?" Altman wrote. "Given my experiences with Hodean Graham, my answer to this question is simply yes."