The Brooklyn teenager responsible for drumming up the riot that led to the killing of Black teenager Yusuf Hawkins was ultimately acquitted of his murder, but what happened after that?
The tragic night of August 23, 1989 — when Hawkins was shot to death after he and his friends were attacked by a mob of mostly-white youths wielding bats in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn — was instigated by Keith Mondello and his issues with his one-time girlfriend Gina Feliciano, events depicted in HBO's new documentary "Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn."
Police have said Mondello, then 19, was upset by Feliciano having Black and Hispanic friends and had gathered a mob to attack them after Mondello heard she invited friends to Bensonhurst for a birthday party, the New York Times reported in 1989. Feliciano claimed she canceled the party after hearing of Mondello's plans.
Mondello's attorney told the Times that his client had been threatened by Feliciano, who allegedly told him that she was bringing a group of as many as 30 youths to beat him up. Feliciano later denied this claim when interviewed by police, as the documentary shows.
Hawkins had no involvement in this dispute at all, as he was only in the majority-white neighborhood of Bensonhurst to look at a used car with his friends. In spite of this, they were spotted and attacked by the mob and Hawkins was shot to death. In the aftermath of the killing, Mondello and a number of other youths were arrested.
Chaos ensued following Hawkins' murder, spurring a series of protest marches through Bensonhurst led by Hawkins' family, friends, and civil rights leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton — who became a spokesperson for the Hawkins family in the wake of the teen's death.
Following the riot that killed Hawkins, Mondello was charged with murder along with manslaughter, rioting, menacing, racial discrimination and criminal possession of a weapon, among other charges, according to the New York Daily News in 1989. The person who shot Hawkins was identified by prosecutors as Joseph Fama, who surrendered after a week on the run and was also charged in Hawkins' murder.
Assistant District Attorney Paul Burns said Mondello was ''the instigator and organizer'' of the group and admitted having a bat, despite denying shooting Hawkins, the Daily News reported.
Ultimately Mondello was acquitted in Hawkins' killing, but was convicted on multiple counts of riot, unlawful imprisonment, menacing, discrimination, and criminal possession of a weapon, according to a 1990 New York Times bulletin. Fama, meanwhile, was convicted of murdering Hawkins.
However, Justice Thaddeus Owens sentenced Mondello to the harshest one allowed under the law at the time: Five and one-third years to 16 years in prison. Owens also ruled the teenager would not be able to be paroled until he served out the full five and one-third years minimum sentence, according to the Washington Post.
"Without Mr. Mondello, there wouldn't have been the death of anyone," Owens said during sentencing.
Fama was sentenced to over 30 years in prison following his murder conviction — where he remains today. Fama maintains he did not shoot Hawkins.
Mondello was released in 1998 after serving eight years in prison and soon after met with Hawkins' father, Moses Stewart, in a private meeting documented by NY1 News.
Mondello was reticent to speak on camera about the meeting but told NY1 he apologized to Stewart and Hawkins' family for his actions during the meeting.
"I can only hope and pray it brings peace to Mr. Stewart and the Hawkins family," he said about the apology.
Sharpton, who was also in attendance at the meeting, praised the fact that it took place, according a prior report from the New York Post.
“Maybe some kid somewhere out there could see this tonight and say, ‘It’s better to talk,’ and then maybe other kids will not be laying in a cemetery,” Sharpton told NY1 News, according to the Post.
Where Is Keith Mondello Now?
Mondello appears to now recognize his role in Hawkins' death and has expressed guilt for his actions the night the teenager was shot to death.
"That kid was shot for no reason at all. It was completely senseless," Mondello told the New York Daily News in 2014. "Did I know that then? Yes. I know it even more now."
Mondello told the outlet that after his release from prison, he attended St. Francis College and graduated with a degree in sociology. He later married and had a daughter.
"Yusuf Hawkins losing his life at 16 years old — on an intellectual level, I always knew and imagined how hurt his parents were that they no longer had their son ... when you have a child, you know the pain," he told the newspaper.
He emphasized that he would always have to live with his regret for the murder.
"I would do anything to give Yusuf Hawkins his life back," he told the Daily News. "This is not something for you to report to make people think that, 'Oh, I'm some kind of good person.' I mean it honestly from my heart [...] t's not like I can ever make up for it. It happened, and so I had to live with it."
At the time, Mondello told the Daily News he lives in Staten Island.
He did not speak with the filmmakers behind "Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn" for a present-day interview.
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