A Yonkers man who killed 16-year-old Madysen Denman when he drove his car into her after he was beaten up by a group that included her boyfriend had “blacked out” behind the wheel and never intended to hurt her, Thompson’s lawyer told the jury Wednesday as his murder trial began.
“This was an accident. A horrible, horrible tragedy,” the lawyer, Dawn Florio, said in her opening statement. “Madysen was like his little sister. He loved her.”
But Assistant District Attorney Craig Ascher insisted earlier that the girl’s death was no accident, repeating several times that Thompson acted “intentionally, not accidentally” in the moments before he slammed his car into her.
“The defendant was heated, and no doubt humiliated, having been beaten up,” Ascher said.
Thompson, 24, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder and faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the murder charge.
Joel Thompson, 24, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder and faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the murder charge. (Photo: Yonkers police)
The emotion of the trial was palpable from the outset, as some of Denman’s relatives sobbed as Ascher described her fatal injuries. During a break later, Westchester County Judge George Fufidio got both sides to acknowledge his warning that there should be no outbursts during the trial.
The crash on Dec. 20, 2017, at the Whitney Young apartments on Nepperhan Avenue followed a large fight at the gas station next door. Denman and Thompson had been involved in a check-cashing scheme and Thompson was apparently upset about how much money he had gotten and felt disrespected.
Thompson had exchanged angry text and Facebook messages that morning with Denman and her boyfriend, Omar Ramos. He threatened them and let them know he was coming over to the building to fight, claiming he was bringing a gun, although he did not. When he arrived and parked in the gas station a fight broke out with Ramos.
Soon another man hit Thompson with a baseball bat and then he was attacked by several people.
Thompson got into his car, but rather than drive away, Ascher said, he made a series of turns, drove onto the sidewalk and then right at Denman, Ramos and another man.
Denman was pinned against the wall, suffering massive head and internal injuries. An off-duty paramedic who was nearby tried to resuscitate her but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
The prosecutor cited Thompson’s earlier threats.
“He did exactly what he said he would do: he killed her,” Ascher said.
Blackout defense offered
Florio insisted that Thompson wasn’t making turns but had tried to get through the car wash next to the gas station. He was unaware of what he was doing at that point, she said, and drove straight ahead without any intention of hitting anyone.
If Denman hadn’t turned right into the path of the car, she’d be alive today, Florio said.
Thompson started driving away while one of the men at the scene began pummeling his car with the bat, breaking two windows. Soon police had put out a bulletin about the car and an officer who was working a construction detail at Palmer Avenue directed Thompson to stop.
Florio said Thompson was only trying to get away because he thought he would be attacked again. She said he also told the officer he was injured and was trying to get to a hospital where his mother worked.
Florio insisted that his client and Denman were “great friends”. But Denman’s sister, Felicia Jackson, testified that while she had met Thompson, who was a good friend of their brother’s, Thompson and Madysen really weren’t friendly.
Florio told jurors that her client would testify even though he has the constitutional right not to, that “Joey has waited a long time to clear his name.”
“He’s going to tell you this was a horrible accident,” she said. “It was the worst day of his life and something that haunts him every single day.”
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