One of the defendants accused of murdering Michael Sandy as part of a hate crime a year ago is now claiming that he is innocent because he himself is a gay man. Michael Fortunato is on trial for the murder of Michael Sandy after he and three friends arranged to meet him in a secluded spot in Sheepshead Bay for a gay tryst. Instead, they ambushed the 29-year-old Williamsburg man who, fleeing his attackers, ran onto the Belt Parkway and was struck by a car and died five days later. The youngest of the four men involved in the attack, Michael Timmins, is 17 years old and pleaded guilty in exchange for his testimony against the other three men, Fortunato, Ilya Shurov and John Fox.

Prosecutors maintain that Fortunato is inextricably linked to the crime, because he previously bragged to Timmins, Shurov, and Fox about setting up bogus rendezvous with gay men online, only to rob them when meeting them in person. Fortunato is also believed to be the person who conducted the online communication with Sandy that resulted in the Sheepshead Bay meeting that led to Sandy's death. Fortunato's defense lawyer Gerald Di Chiara says that nothing went as planned that evening and that his client actually intended to use the meeting with Sandy as an opportunity to come out of the closet to his friends.

Mr. Fortunato, he said, might have planned to smoke marijuana with Mr. Sandy as a means of testing his friends’ sentiments about homosexuality. Or, he said, perhaps Mr. Fortunato had wanted to swindle a gay man, to see how his friends reacted to a gay person.

Luring a gay man out to a secluded spot to be met by his friends under the pretense of taking his money was simply part of Fortunato's plan to come out to his friends as a gay person, according to Di Chiara. And the lawyer asserted that the prosecution's witness, Michael Timmins, is also gay.

The lawyer for John Fox posited his client's innocence on the basis that Fox wasn't planning on robbing Michael Sandy, but planned simply on tricking him out of his money: "Basically what you had here was a scam. The plan was to scam Mr. Sandy to get his money."