2007_10_sihatecrime.jpgThe Staten Island District Attorney's office has dropped hate crime charges against two young white men accused of beating a black man in Mariners Harbor. SI DA Daniel Donovan said, "At this point I believe the evidence provided to my office by the police is legally insufficient to support hate-crime charges."

Skylar McCormick was allegedly punched, kicked, beaten and threatened with a baseball bat Tuesday night after he touched Daniel Avissato's Cadillac. Avissato and Mark Valeto still face second-degree gang assault charges; they were accompanied by at least two other men who have not been charged.

The attackers were allegedly yelling racial epithets, but the DA's decision now raises questions about the account. Donovan also said, "Our investigation is ongoing, and as our efforts move forward I am not excluding the possibility of presenting to a grand jury evidence in support of an indictment under the hate crimes statute."

During their arraignment yesterday, Avissato's lawyer John Murphy asked a number of black teens to appear, noting, "The accused young man I represent is not a racist. The anecdotal evidence of his living and working in harmony with diversity is overwhelming," and that there was a "rush to judgment" in the wake of the various hate crime incidents in the city. However, the Reverend Al Sharpton denounced decision to drop hate crime charges. He is expected to make a statement with McCormick and his family today.

And last year, a hate crime trial hinged on the use of a racial epithet. The defendant, who beat a black man with a baseball bat, eventually got 15 years in prison.

Photograph by the Staten Island Advance