By Joy Bergmann
Jinette Moore sits outside Judge Abraham Clott’s courtroom patting the locket she wears around her neck. It’s filled with the ashes of Tony McClain, her 20-year-old nephew who was stabbed to death in the early afternoon of January 10th near the corner of 99th and Broadway. “He’s always with me.”
She’s at Criminal Court for yet another status hearing in the second-degree murder case against defendants Jashawn Gorham, 18, and Brighton Montgomery, 17 at the time of his arrest, now 18. Moore takes time off from her job at the IRS to attend every hearing, joined variously by McClain’s father, uncle, cousin and other family and friends. “We’re here to make sure my nephew gets justice,” she says.
Moore also wants to set the record straight on her nephew’s character.
She says McClain was a loving, hardworking, music-making, laughter-filled high school graduate who was on his way home from getting fitted for a uniform for a second job at a movie theater when he was attacked and killed.
Moore says the family was furious at initial media reports calling the murder “gang-related”, feeling such stories maligned McClain as somehow responsible for his demise. “When it’s black-on-black, the cops are always saying it’s gang-related. We didn’t grow up like that. He wasn’t raised like that…he had morals,” she says, noting Tony’s mother is a 20-plus year government employee and his grandmother has worked for NYPD for over 30 years. “It’s like you’re guilty because you grow up with certain people. And you can’t be friends with them because of what they’re doing when you’re not with them?”
McClain lived in Douglass Houses, a NYCHA development between 100th and 104th Streets near Columbus Avenue. Following his murder, residents held a candlelight vigil in its courtyard. Moore says another memorial ceremony happened at his alma mater, Broome Street Academy Charter High School. “Whole high school came out, teachers, principals. You don’t do that for a gangbanger.”
So what exactly happened? And why?
Definitive answers remain elusive.
In a court affidavit, Police Officer Robert Maxcy of the 24th Precinct, provides his eyewitness account:
On January 10, 2019, at about 1:20 p.m., I observed defendants Jashawn Gorham and Brighton Montgomery in the vicinity of 96th and Amsterdam Avenue. I am familiar with both defendants through prior contacts and arrests that I have been present for and believe them to be members of MCF [street crew Money Comes First] because they live in the Wise Towers [a NYCHA development near 90th and Amsterdam], associate with other MCF members and have posted their affiliation on social media.
Because both defendants were walking north on Amsterdam Avenue toward the Douglass Houses, I was concerned there was going to be a potential dispute. [Earlier in the affidavit, Maxcy notes that there is a rivalry between MCF and another crew called Columbus Avenue Gunners operating out of Douglass Houses and that the area around 99th and Broadway is a known site for fights between crews.]
Shortly thereafter, I observed the defendants near the corner of 99th and Broadway and observed: (i) both defendants engaged in a physical altercation with Tony McClain; (ii) both defendants punching and swinging their arms and making contact with Mr. McClain; and (iii) shortly after the altercation, Mr. McClain run a short distance and collapse to the sidewalk.
I thereafter pursued the two defendants and, with assistance from other officers, apprehended defendants Gorham and Montgomery within minutes.
Following the apprehension of the defendants, I returned to the area where I observed Mr. McClain collapse. There, I observed other officers rendering aid to Mr. McClain as well as a knife on the sidewalk not far from where he had fallen.
In the felony-charging document, 24th Precinct Detective Ramon Gutierrez says that a pink knife was recovered near McClain’s body and that “defendant Gorham admitted that he had stabbed the victim with a pink knife.”
Gutierrez says that Officer Maxcy also recovered a “knife sheath” from Montgomery and that NYPD recovered a second knife from 98th and Broadway that was a “match” with the sheath.
In this same document, Gutierrez says McClain was a “person known to the New York City Police Department.”
WSR requested the arrest records of the defendants and the victim. An NYPD spokesperson said McClain had no arrests. The spokesperson said Gorham and Montgomery had no arrests other than for the McClain homicide. It should be noted that, generally speaking, records of arrests that occur while a suspect is a juvenile are sealed and not available to the public.
McClain’s family remains dismayed that NYPD officers did not intervene before the fatal scuffle.
“You came out as an officer and said, ‘we had our eyes on them, we were watching them.’ OK! Why didn’t you stop them?” says Jinette Moore. “You know this kid [Montgomery] is 17 years old, why didn’t you stop him on a school day? That would’ve been an automatic stop when we were growing up. Those truant officers would get you.”
Moore says the family still does not know why McClain was targeted. “My nephew didn’t know these boys from a can of paint.”
She cites McClain’s Douglass residence as one possible motivating factor. “[Tony] was living somewhere that they had a problem with,” she says, imagining a scenario where the defendants thought, “‘He’s probably one of them dudes that hang out with so and so. Let’s get him.’ It’s just ridiculous. It’s all for nothing.”
A prosecution document called the People’s Voluntary Disclosure Form outlines 10 statements Jashawn Gorham purportedly made in the hours following his arrest. From 1:25 p.m. until 8 p.m., he asks mainly about charges and says he doesn’t want to answer questions.
But at 9:43 p.m., presumably after being informed that McClain had died, Gorham appears to begin making a rambling confession that continues into the following day.
“He’s dead right now? We were just fooling. I know him, not his name or nickname… I don’t know if he lives in Douglass. He was grilling us and he said something. We just started fighting… We fought him and I stabbed him.”
Gorham appears to contradict himself several times as to whether he knew McClain.
“I never saw him in the past… I fought him a long time ago when I was 16…he beat me up, a black eye. Today, just bumped into him… We saw somebody I used to fight. I don’t know him. I fought him a year ago…I recognized his face.”
According to Gorham’s alleged statements, he and Montgomery had been together at the High School of Economics and Finance, but left after lunch. The two took the 2 train to 96th Street and went to a store in search of fruit roll-ups.
Afterward, “The guy [McClain] saw us and he swung at us. I don’t know if Brighton swung, only knew I and the guy was fighting. I forgot where the guy was hitting me. I didn’t get hurt. I stabbed him once. I really didn’t know it went into him. The knife slipped out of my hand until I saw it inside him. I was like oh. The guy took it out of himself and tried to stab me and that’s when I started running, we ran.”
“It was just a fist fight. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I pulled out a knife. It was just a reaction. I thought he had something.”
Wilfredo Sta. Ana, Gorham’s defense attorney, did not respond to WSR’s emailed questions about the case.
Court documents indicate Sta. Ana will be pursuing a lack of mens rea defense. One defense motion states Gorham did not act with “the requisite intent to cause the death of Tony McClain.” Although he allegedly confessed to stabbing McClain, Gorham “vomited numerous times inside the 24th Precinct upon learning of Mr. McClain’s death” and “communicated his lack of intent to kill Tony McClain when he told law enforcement, ‘I didn’t know it would lead to this.’”
The defense motion also signals another possible argument: “Although Jashawn was 18 years old at the time of the alleged incident, a review of his school records reveal that he is learning disabled and has the academic skills of a 4th grader.”
According to the People’s Voluntary Disclosure Form, Brighton Montgomery made no substantive statements to police immediately following his arrest.
WSR emailed Sam Roberts, Montgomery’s defense attorney, multiple questions about the case. Roberts provided this statement:
Video surveillance footage exonerates Mr. Montgomery of committing or assisting in any crime, or even making any physical contact with the decedent, Mr. McClain. Moreover, notwithstanding any attempt by law enforcement to malign our client, he is not associated with any gang.
I also note that as of his arrest, Mr. Montgomery was not on parole, probation, or supervised release; had no open cases; and has no criminal record. Mr. Montgomery, a teenager, remains on Rikers Island in DOC custody, separated from his family, despite any concrete evidence linking him to this crime.
It is our hope that the District Attorney’s Office will look closely at dismissing this case. If not, we look forward to exonerating him at trial before a fair and impartial jury.
According to the prosecution’s documents, such dismissal seems unlikely.
Assistant District Attorney Christina Ante writes, “Multiple eye witnesses and video plainly show that co-defendant Montgomery with defendant Gorham, chased the victim who was simply walking on the sidewalk and that during the assault, prevented the victim from safely escaping. Thus, even at trial if Montgomery would blame Gorham as the stabber who killed Tony McClain, such a defense does not absolve Montgomery of acting in concert.”
Jinette Moore silently watches the defendants’ family members file into Judge Clott’s courtroom. They will soon see their young men led in and out, catching their eyes for a moment or two.
Moore touches her locket again. “He’s not going to be able to have children. We can’t talk to him. We can’t call him. None of that.”
“I always told my nephew, no matter what, I will always be there for him. Even in death, I have to be there. Not just for me, but for my sister,” she says, noting that although McClain’s mother has stayed away from these preliminary hearings, she will likely attend any eventual trial.
“[Tony] clearly was a victim of two individuals who thought they could go around hurting and harming people without consequences.” She shakes her head. “Wrong kid. They picked the wrong kid.”