(NEW YORK) — A gay New York City high school student who police say fatally stabbed a classmate whom he claimed had been bullying him amid years of harassment from peers over his sexual orientation was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Abel Cedeno apologized at a sentencing hearing Tuesday for killing 15-year-old Matthew McCree and wounding another student at their Bronx school in 2017. “I have been sorry about everything, for the damage I caused, for hurting two families,” he told a packed courtroom.
Fighting broke out in the courthouse lobby afterward. Video shot by News 12 The Bronx showed court officers surrounding one man and taking him to the ground.
Cedeno, now 20, was convicted at a non-jury trial in July of manslaughter, assault and criminal possession of a weapon. Prosecutors described him as the aggressor in the fatal encounter in a U.S. history class at the since-closed Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation.
Cedeno, upset after a paper ball or pencil was thrown in his direction, challenged McCree to a fight and then plunged a switchblade about 2½-3 inches deep into his heart as horrified teachers and students looked on, prosecutors said. He also stabbed 16-year-old Ariane Laboy five times, including twice in the chest, as he tried to intervene, prosecutors said.
Cedeno never denied stabbing the students, but insisted he acted in self-defense after years of harassment for being gay. He said he made a split-second decision to pull the switchblade, which he had bought online for self-protection, after McCree pelted him with trash and punched him. Other students testified that Cedeno instigated the fight.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said in a statement that there was no evidence McCree or Laboy ever bullied Cedeno. The defendant’s “explosion of rage has left so many lives in ruins, including his own,” she said.
McCree’s death was the first homicide inside a New York City school since 1993.
Cedeno, who faced up to 25 years in prison on the manslaughter and assault charges, pleaded for leniency at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, saying, “I’m not the same person I was two years ago.”
McCree’s mother, Louna Dennis, told reporters outside court she was grateful that a judge rejected his bid for youthful offender status, which could have significantly trimmed his time behind bars. Alleged “I didn’t get my 50 years, but I’ll take 14,” Dennis said. “Had he gotten youthful offender, it would have been maybe one-and-a-half. I’ll take the 14.”