The NY Times has a good article about the second trial of Steven Johnson, who unleashed his anger by shooting people and taking others hostage in an East Village bar almost five years ago. Johnson, who has AIDS, was unemployed at the time and was allegedly looking for "happy people" to "avenge the oppression of black people like himself," according the Times.
We remember the incident very clearly. It was a nice June night and we almost stepped into Bar Veloce, but it was too crowded. The next day, we heard that someone shot a man on the way to the car, took a woman hostage, tied up Bar Veloce patrons and poured kerosene on them, and shot Chef Iso (of the sushi restaurant Iso which was next door) when he stopped by the bar to see what was going on. Johnson had an arsenal of weapons, including a Derringer, two semi-automatic handguns, a samurai sword, and plastic handcuffs. At the time, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, ''It will be categorized as a bias crime, but this was such a bizarre event. This individual was clearly deranged, possibly as a result of his wife having died.''
Prosecutors are arguing that Johnson was not mentally ill but had planned a "suicide by cop" that would make his family famous and give them financial security when they sold his story. Johnson's lawyers, though, are arguing that he was delusional. Johnson apparently told a psychologist, "There's no war in the ghetto, but there's a war in my mind." Legal Aid lawyer Michelle Gelernt said, "Somehow, his taking those white people hostage and burning them alive and having police kill him would cause a revolution," but she said no one could honestly believe that. However, prosecutor Peter Hinckley said Johnson thought he would get "media attention." From the Times:
Mr. Hinckley rattled off a long list of other people he said were similarly obsessed by fame, perhaps criminal in some cases but not insane. The list included Mel Gibson, Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, abortion clinic bombers, Palestinian and Iraqi suicide bombers, members of the Aryan Nations, and any number of amateur singers competing on “American Idol.”
“They are clearly grandiose and have strongly and passionately held beliefs,” he said, but they were not delusional in the clinical sense.
The article also draw parallels between Johnson's life and the Jonathan Lethem book, The Fortress of Solitude.
The 2004 trial ended in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked.