Manhunt for suspect in beating death

February 26, 2009 5:51:25 PM PST
Police hunted Thursday for a second suspect in the beating death of an Ecuadorean immigrant as another man pleaded not guilty to a hate crime murder charge in the attack. Police released a video of the second suspect, identified by police as Keith Phoenix, 28, and offered a $22,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

Phoenix is seen in the tape grinning as he pays a toll in an SUV at the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge on Dec. 7 at 3:47 a.m., 19 minutes after real estate broker Jose Sucuzhanay and his brother were attacked in Brooklyn.

Police and prosecutors said Sucuzhanay was beaten with a bat and kicked by men shouting anti-Hispanic and anti-gay slurs as the brothers walked arm-in-arm to keep warm.

Hakim Scott, 25, was being held after his arraignment Thursday on a charge of second-degree murder as a hate crime. His attorney was waiting to go through legal papers before deciding whether to make a bail request. Scott's next court appearance was set for Tuesday.

The attack ignited outrage from New York to Ecuador, sparking demonstrations around the city. On Thursday, community members gathered at the spot where Sucuzhanay was beaten, in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, to express outrage and show support for the family. Officials said efforts were being made to rename the street after the victim.

Sucuzhanay, 31, and his brother Romel walked along the street after attending a church party and stopping at a bar.

Police said Phoenix and Scott were sitting in a sport utility vehicle at a red light when they came upon the brothers. The groups "exchanged words." Then Scott got out of the SUV, hit Jose Sucuzhanay with a beer bottle and chased Romel Sucuzhanay with it, separating the brothers, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Phoenix grabbed an aluminum baseball bat from the vehicle and "savagely beat Jose about his shoulders, ribs and back until he fell to the pavement," Kelly said.

Romel Sucuzhanay was able to run and call police.

The attack left Jose Sucuzhanay in a coma. He died several days later as his mother was en route from their native Ecuador to see him. He was buried in Ecuador.

Investigators used information from witnesses about the SUV's license plate to trace the vehicle to Phoenix's girlfriend, who wasn't involved in the attack, Kelly said. They linked Phoenix to the SUV using information from an Oct. 20, 2008, accident report; he was driving it at the time, police said. It's the same car shown in the video released Thursday.

The attack on Sucuzhanay came about a month after another Ecuadorean immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, was stabbed to death in Patchogue, on Long Island. Prosecutors said seven teenagers charged in that assault had set out to find a Hispanic person to attack.

Lucero's mother and brother, Rosario and Joselo, attended the rally Thursday in support of Sucuzhanay's family.