NEW YORK CITY, NY — A Manhattan grand jury is investigating the beating death of a man in New York’s Union Square as a possible hate crime, New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner John McCarthy told CNN Tuesday.
Jeffrey Babbitt, 62, was pronounced dead Monday, five days after being beaten by a man who allegedly said, “I’m gonna punch out the first white guy I see,” according to police commissioner Ray Kelly.
Witnesses said the suspect, identified by police as Lashawn Marten, struck Babbitt so hard that bystanders could hear the force of his head hitting the cement. Two other men were also assaulted in the September 4 attack as they tried to help Babbitt, police said.
Marten, who’s been charged with three counts of assault — one of them a felony — made his first appearance in court Tuesday and was appointed a new lawyer.
Attorney Michael Croce was not in court Tuesday and hasn’t yet met his client. He told CNN Marten has not had a psychiatric evaluation and has not been requested to undergo such an examination.
“I’m not aware of any reason why he should receive one, but I’ve not ruled anything out,” Croce said.
No additional charges were filed, but the grand jury is considering evidence being gathered by the NYPD’s hate crimes task force and may decide to upgrade the charge to a hate crime, which could include manslaughter.
“The murder or manslaughter charge is a charge that requires far more on the part of the prosecution to prove his intent to inflict that type of injury,” Marten’s attorney said. “They must show intent to cause serious injury…. It needs to be explored more as to whether they have enough evidence to prove intent to kill based on one punch.”
Marten, 31, has prior arrests for aggravated harassment, assault, trespass and drug possession, a law enforcement source told CNN.
Robert Pizzimenti, a neighbor of Babbitt’s, described the man as “a lovable guy.”
“He was the kind of guy who always was doing favors for people. If you needed a ride to an appointment, you could call Jeff and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll take you,'” Pizzimenti said.
Neighbors say Babbitt also cared for his 94-year-old mother, Lucille, who refused to leave her son’s bedside in the hospital.
“I called her on the phone, I said, ‘Lu, come home.’ She said ‘I’m not leaving my son,'” Pizzimenti said.
CNN’s Allie Malloy, Sho Wills and Erinn Cawthon contributed to this report.
By Susan Candiotti
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