MANHATTAN — In a stunning reversal, the state's Appellate Division has overturned the murder conviction of a Manhattan man who killed a Long Island motivational speaker bent on faking his own suicide, officials said.
The decision likely means a re-trial for Kenneth Minor, a convicted drug abuser who claimed he helped millionaire Jeffrey Locker, 52, stab himself to death in order for Locker’s family to cash in on nearly $16 million in insurance policies.
Minor was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison in one of the city’s most bizarre murder cases.
The appellate court ruled that Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman mistakenly instructed the jury that they could convict Minor if they believed he actively participated in Locker’s death — suggesting that only a “passive” act could help in “assisted suicide.”
But Minor’s lawyer, Daniel Gotlin, maintained that the statute was, in fact, “neutral” on “assistance” to people bent on killing themselves.
“We are extremely pleased by the decision that it was an error that in essence directed a guilty decision,” Gotlin said.
Minor will not be released pending a decision to retry him, officials said.
In Locker’s case, detectives uncovered evidence that showed he had fallen on financially hard times and was taking out numerous multimillion dollar life insurance policies in the year before he died.
In July 2009, Locker drove his family car to East Harlem in search of someone to pay to shoot him and make the killing appear to be a botched robbery.
Detectives later found a drug addict who fleeced Locker out of thousands of dollars with a promise to kill him, only to leave him alive and strapped for cash.
After being conned out of his cash, Locker continued to look for someone to kill him and found Minor, who agreed to help.
Prosecutors claimed Minor seized the opportunity stabbed Locker to death in his car and stole his ATM card to rifle his bank account for money to buy drugs. They argued it was a clear case of murder.
But Minor insisted he held the knife against the steering wheel and that Locker, with his hands tied behind his back, thrust himself several times onto it and bled to death.
He said he merely helped Locker get his wish after listening to his tale of woe.
“Only two people in the world know what happened that night — and one of them is not here no more,” Minor said at his sentencing. “[Locker] didn’t want this for me. In the end, Mr. Locker is where he wanted to be. I didn’t go searching for anyone that night.”
Minor, 39, is presently serving time in upstate Clinton Correctional Facility.
A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said they had yet to make any decisions until they study the ruling.