A 33-year-old man with a criminal past was charged on Sunday with gunning down a gay man on a busy stretch of New York City's West Village, only blocks from what is considered to be the birthplace of the American gay rights movement. The alleged killer, police say, was motivated by only one thing: that his victim was gay.
"It's clear that the victim here was killed only because and just because he was thought to be gay," New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a press conference. "There is no question about that. There were these derogatory remarks. The victim did nothing to antagonize or instigate the shooter in this case. It's only done because the shooter believed him to be gay."
Elliot Morales was charged Sunday with murder as a hate crime, along with weapons charges, in the death of Mark Carson. According to police, Morales hurled anti-gay slurs at Carson and a male friend around midnight Saturday before ultimately shooting Carson in the head with a single bullet. Here's how the Wall Street Journal pieced together the chilling incident based on court records and police statements:
Mr. Carson, 32, and a male friend were walking along Sixth Avenue near Eighth Street around midnight on Saturday when they passed Mr. Morales, who allegedly greeted them with a gay slur and then told them, "You look like gay wrestlers," according to court records.
In an interview with police, Mr. Carson's friend said the two walked back to Mr. Morales and asked him what he meant by the remarks, a law-enforcement official said. The friend told police that Mr. Morales asked the two, "You all want problems?" and then followed them to Eighth Street, where he confronted them again, asking, "Do you want to die right now?" the official said.
The friend told police he told Mr. Morales, "Do you want to shoot us in front of all these people?" and had taken his phone out, the official said. Mr. Morales allegedly then asked, "Are you with him?" court records said. Mr. Carson replied, "Yes," at which point Mr. Morales allegedly shot him in the head, the court records said.
Carson was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Morales has a long track record of running afoul of the law, according to state correction records, and previously served 10 years in prison for robbery. His sister, Edith Gutierrez, however, says that she doesn't believe her brother would ordinarily be capable of committing a crime like the one he is accused of. She told the New York Times that she and her brother have relatives who are gay and that Morales had shown no signs of homophobia. She suggested, however, that alcohol may have played a role in the shooting based on what he told her over the telephone from jail on Sunday. "He said he doesn't remember anything," she said. "He was under the influence, he was drinking."
That account lines up partially with what witnesses told police, although the picture they paint is one of Morales looking for trouble while out on the town with two friends. Police say that Morales' Friday night included urinating in front of a bar in the neighborhood before going inside and confronting the bartender with anti-gay slurs. He then allegedly pulled up his sweatshirt to show off a revolver he was carrying in a shoulder holster and threatened to kill the bartender if he called police. After leaving the bar, he then ran into Carson and his friend. (Morales' two buddies appear to have peeled off after he made his initials comments.)
Carson's murder shocked much of the city over the weekend, in large part because of where it occurred. He was gunned down less than a quarter mile from the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riot that sparked the modern LGBT civil rights movement. According to the Times, the killing was the first in the West Village precinct this year, and only one other homicide was reported there all last year. Still, those statistics may be a little misleading. There have been nearly 60 reported assaults in the West Village this year alone, nearly twice as many as occurred in the neighborhood over the same period last year. Perhaps even more troubling is that hate crimes appear to be on the upswing in New York City. According to the NYPD, there have been 22 bias-related crimes this year, compared with only 13 during the same stretch in 2012. Carson's death was the fifth attack on gay men in the past three weeks alone, according to the Times.
Gay rights advocates and like-minded allies are planning on holding a number of events around the city beginning Monday, including a march this evening in the West Village to protest the surge in attacks on homosexuals.