Hate Crimes Charges Dropped in NYC Bashing Incident

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 15, 2011

The dismissal of hate crimes charges against a suspect in a 2008 bashing is only the latest twist in Risto Prendzov's long journey.

Prendzov won a green card lottery in 2006, which enabled him to leave Macedonia and start a new life in this country. But in 2008, Prendzov, then 29 years old, was attacked and so brutally beaten that he was left "with a bashed-in skull, a punctured lung, a broken jaw and eye socket and a crushed hand," the New York Times reported on Nov. 15, 2009.

The injuries that Prendzov sustained were so severe that he needed physical therapy to regain basic motor abilities such as walking and even swallowing. He also needed psychotherapy to remember what had happened, and who had beaten him so mercilessly on a street in Queens, New York.

The authorities had estimated, based on the extent and severity of the injuries he suffered, that Prendzov had been attacked by at least three men. When his memories of the assault started to return, Prendzov confirmed this, telling the police that Lamell Jones and two others had beaten him while hurling anti-gay slurs such as ""white trash faggot."

Prendzov recognized Jones, 24, as one of his attackers upon seeing him at a supermarket, where Jones was employed as a clerk. Jones was arrested and jailed. He faced the prospect of 25 years in prison on hate crimes charges.

Then the charges against Jones were dismissed, the New York Post reported on July 14.

Prosecutors question whether the memories that Prendzov recovered over a two-year period are genuine, and suspect that they might be "false memories," the sort of recollection that an individual can create at the urging of a therapist or other authority figure.

"Although the circumstances of Mr. Jones' arrest are unfortunate, in the end justice was served," attorney Robert Didio, who represents the accused, told the press.

Jones had maintained his innocence all along. He was arrested in February, and spent a month in prison as a suspect.

"At first, I was in denial because it was so unbelievable," said Jones, according to a May 24 New York Daily News article. "I just couldn't believe I was being accused of these things."

"I feel liberated in every sense of the word," Jones said, according to a July 14 story posted at Ghana Nation.com. That article also said that DNA testing had failed to show any link between Jones and the attack.

"The people believe there is insufficient credible evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," said Assistant DA Michael Brovner, who theorized that Prendzov thought Jones looked familiar because he had seen the younger man around the neighborhood on prior occasions.

Queens Supreme Court Justice Pauline Mullings dismissed the case on July 14.

Eyewitness memory is notoriously prone to inaccuracy, and so-called recovered memories are especially suspect, because victims can subconsciously alter or fabricate recollections to try to comply with what they think authorities or therapists want to hear. In the 1990s, a series of high profile investigations into claims that children were being sexually assaulted at day care facilities yielded sensational and horrifying tales of ritualized abuse -- but no physical evidence.

Individuals who believe that they are abductees by alien beings in UFOs are another group thought to have been fooled by their own recollections, which often hew closely to established abduction lore and repeat the same details as earlier accounts.

Jones, meantime, lost his supermarket job upon his arrest and now has to contend with having been a suspect in a violent crime as he reenters the job market.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.