Sentencing in White Castle cop beating

May 28, 2008 5:22:15 PM PDT
Five to 10 years in prison. Those were the sentences handed out to four people Wednesday in the beating of an off-duty cop at a fast-food restaurant in the Bronx. NYPD officer Eric Hernandez was killed two years ago, killed after the beating by fellow cops in a tragic case of friendly fire.

Eyewitness News reporter Carolina Leid has the story.

The judge described it as a cruel and unjust attack, adding that the defendants behaved outrageously and savagely.

But while the people who beat and kicked Hernandez may be responsible for his death in some part, by law, they couldn't be held criminally responsible.

Tears flowed both inside and outside the courtroom as the judge handed down sentences.

Edwin Rivera, Nelson Rodriguez, Alexander Fontanez and Jonathan Ayala pleaded guilty earlier this month to assaulting Hernandez inside a Bronx White Castle.

Each will now spend five to 10 years in prison.

Officer Hernandez's father was greeted by cheers from dozens of officers. He says it's been a long, trying two years.

"My family and I are glad that this part of the ordeal is over," Efrain Hernandez said. "That these individuals got their sentences, that they all admitted that they viciously beat my son for no reason and that they were the reason that led to the death of my son."

Surviellance video from that night shows the 24-year-old off-duty rookie in a long white jacket and blue hat getting stomped on by a group of men inside the Webster Avenue restaurant.

Then, grainy cell phone video showed the fight spilling out onto the street.

Hernandez pulled his gun on a bystander he thought was one of his attackers.

Then, police in plain clothes tried to step in. But when Hernandez didn't drop his gun, they fired, not knowing it was one of their own.

Interrupted by intentional violent coughing by cops, defense attorneys argued Hernandez was three times over the legal alcohol limit, adding the defendants were not responsible for murder.

"Clearly, had the victim not been intoxicated and armed, the altercation inside the White Castle never would have taken place," defense attorney Mark Heller said. "It's not justice. They killed the guy, now they're trying to blame those kids."