"I'm going to call the Messiah as my first witness," a defense lawyer quipped, while prosecutors warn judge about possible witness tampering.
Yeshiva row over Messiah goes to court
BY SCOTT SHIFREL • New York DAILY NEWS STAFF
What began as a brawl in a Brooklyn yeshiva dorm over a revered rabbi has left six members of a Jewish patrol group facing gang assault charges in a state Supreme Court trial that started Monday.
The fight - over whether the late Rabbi Menachem Schneerson is an emissary of God - also led to broken bones, a $150 million lawsuit and a battle between two rival patrol groups.
"I'm going to call the Messiah as my first witness," defense lawyer Tedd Blecher quipped after the trial's first day.
With six defense lawyers objecting at once, a kibitzing crowd and the first witness having trouble telling six bearded defendants apart, the trial veered close to farce.
The defendants, members of the Shomrim watch group, face 15 years - and prosecutors were serious when they told Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Albert Tomei of possible witness tampering just before opening statements. The six defendants were called to a Yeshiva dorm on Eastern Parkway to break up a fight between four members of the Messianic group and others on Dec. 29, 2007.
"It seems that the defendants had one goal and that was not to mediate," Assistant District Attorney David Weiss told jurors. "It was to beat up a bunch of yeshiva students."
Defense lawyers said the case was instigated by an attorney affiliated with Shomrim's rival guard group who also filed the lawsuit.
The witness tampering seems to be based on a summons issued over the weekend to Shmira members by the Crown Heights Beit Din (religious court).
Here's the NY Post's article:
Beat-trial defense blames Orthodox rivals
By REUVEN FENTON • NY Post
A long-standing rivalry between two Orthodox Jewish neighborhood patrols took center stage yesterday in the trial of a half-dozen men accused of assaulting yeshiva students in Crown Heights two years ago.
Six members of the Shomrim patrol are charged with attacking the four students after having been called to break up a melee at the school.
But one of the defense lawyers said in her opening statement that the defendants were charged as a result of efforts by Levi Huebner, a lawyer for a rival patrol called Shmira.
Attorney Joyce David said Huebner called police the day after the violence and offered to translate for the Hebrew-speaking students.
But he neglected to disclose that he represented Shmira, she said, and he later pressured detectives to arrest the Shomrim squad.
The two patrols' history of bad blood dates back to the late 1990s, when Shmira splintered from the original group.
"[Huebner] orchestrated this case. He played the DA's office; he played the police," said David, who represents defendant Chaim Hershkop, 28.
She added that Huebner filed a $140 million lawsuit against Shomrim on behalf of the students.
After yesterday's session, Huebner said, "I believe that the only place the case should be tried is in the court."
Prosecutor David Weiss, meanwhile, called Shomrim a "gang" whose intention that night was to attack helpless yeshiva students and "beat them indiscriminately."
But defense lawyer Tedd Blecher argued that the defendants were "like Boy Scouts" up against a hostile bunch.
"They're not yeshiva boys; they're full-grown adults, many of whom are much bigger than the defendants," said Blecher, who represents Benjamin Lifschitz, 23.
The defendants, most of them in their 20s, could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.