New Yorker Gets Seven Years for Savage Beating of Jewish Man, as Attacker’s Supporters Yell at ‘Racist’ Judge in Raucous Hearing

The victim, Joseph Borgen, says he’s satisfied with the stiff sentence.

Courtroom feed
Mahmoud Musa in court. Courtroom feed

A tumult broke out at the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Tuesday after Judge Felicia Mennin sentenced Mahmoud Musa to seven years in state prison for the unprovoked beating of a Jewish man, Joseph Borgen, which prosecutors called an antisemitic hate crime. 

“I love you bro,” shouted one of Musa’s supporters, who was seated next to Musa’s family towards the back of the courtroom. The supporter jumped up as he shouted, triggering the others on his bench to rise as well. Immediately several court officers – there were more than a dozen in the courtroom – escorted the man and Musa’s supporters out of the room. 

While the press and Mr. Borgen’s family and friends waited in the courtroom for approximately 20 minutes, one of Musa’s supporters outside the courtroom yelled that the judge was “racist.”  

25 year-old Musa of Staten Island had pled guilty to one count of second-degree assault as a hate crime this September, two and a half years after he and five other men attacked Mr. Borgen on the street as he was walking to a pro-Israel rally near Times Square. The rally took place during a major outbreak in the Middle East of violence between Israel and Hamas.

CEDARHURST, NEW YORK - MAY 27: Joseph Borgen, a recent victim of a hate crime, speaks during a rally denouncing anti-Semitic violence on May 27, 2021 in Cedarhurst, New York. A rally was held by various organizations and local Jewish community groups to support Borgen after a rise of violent anti-Semitic attacks in New York and across the U.S. (
Joseph Borgen, who was jumped and savagely beaten for being Jewish. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

During the attack, the group of six young men, one of them a minor at the time, sprayed Mr. Borgen with mace or pepper spray, beat him to the ground, kicked and stomped on his face, hit him with a metal crutch, and called him “a dirty Jew” and “a filthy Jew.”  

Musa is the third of the five adult defendants to be sentenced in this case, and his sentence is by far the harshest. Faisal Elezzi, who allegedly punched Mr. Borgen twice, pled guilty to a third-degree attempted assault charge as a hate crime in April. He was sentenced to three years of probation under the condition that he attend an anti-bias program.

Yet soon after, Elezzi was arrested again, on Staten Island, for running an illegal smoke shop and being in the possession of cannabis. The new charges against him were dropped in October, but due to the violation of his plea agreement, Judge Mennin sentenced him to 60 days in prison added to his 3 year probation. 

Another defendant, Waseem Awawdeh, who beat Mr. Borgen with the metal crutch, also pled guilty to second-degree attempted assault as a hate crime, and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. He got 364 days in prison for the first charge, and six months for the second.  Meanwhile, Musa was taken away in handcuffs, facing not days or months, but seven years behind bars.  

Judge Mennin explained to Musa that her sentence “has nothing to do with your beliefs, your freedom of speech, your identity or your national origin. It is being imposed as a result of your actions.” She empathized that his actions “will not be tolerated in any civilized society,” and were actions which he “admitted violate the laws of this state.”    

Surveillance images were released of the assailants during a manhunt that followed the attack. Crimestoppers

The judge clarified that the selection of a “random Jew” by the participants was “planned, calculated and intended.” Mr. Borgen was wearing a yarmulka at the time he was attacked.

“I hope some good lesson comes from this and someone thinks twice before hurting someone just for wearing a yarmulka or kippah,” Mr. Borgen’s mother, Amy Borgen, told the Sun in the hallway of the courthouse before the sentencing began.  

The seats in the courtroom were filled with friends, family and members of the Jewish community, who had come to show their support for Mr. Borgen. Many of them wore baseball caps featuring the slogan “Justice For Joey.”      

In a prepared victim impact statement, Mr. Borgen gave a detailed description of the attack. On May 20, 2021, a few blocks from the rally, he “noticed an individual from the corner” of his eye. Soon after he was surrounded by a group of young men who started punching him, while yelling antisemitic slurs.

Mr. Borgen said he was “hanging on for dear life,” and that he feared he was “potentially going to die.” He thanked the New York Police Department and the doctors at the hospital where he was treated. “If the police had not come,” he said, “they would have killed me.” 

Mr. Borgen told the court that to this day, he feels pain in his right wrist and is still going to need more surgery. “I instinctually covered up my head with my wrist. So all the attacks towards my head ended up hitting my wrist.” Simple daily tasks like lifting up his dog still cause him pain and remind him of the incident, he said. 

Though Mr. Borgen said he believes the defendant has not shown any remorse and that “he was only sorry that he got caught,” Musa apologized directly to the victim when he addressed the court. “My sincere apologies to you and to the Jewish community,” he said.   

“I recognize that what I did was wrong,” he continued, clearing his throat several times, “I am committed to making things right.” He expressed that he had had a lot of time to think on Rikers Island while awaiting sentencing. He further pointed out to the judge that his family was in the courtroom – his mother and two younger sisters, 8 and 10 years old – and that they relied on him financially.  

Musa’s attorney, Lance Lazzaro, asked that his client be sentenced to 3.5 years in prison instead of the 6.5 that the District Attorney’s office had recommended. Musa had no prior criminal convictions, Mr. Lazzaro said, arguing that people convicted of gun crimes didn’t receive a 6.5 year sentence for a first felony offense. 

Judge Mennin interrupted him, “Have you had a defendant in my courtroom?”

Mr. Lazzaro implored her to show “a little mercy,” considering that Musa’s father had died when he was a child, that he “lived in abject poverty growing up,” and “never had the proper schooling in order to make him be able to make the right choices.” He repeated several times that “there is a lot of good in him.” 

Judge Mennin was not moved. She also did not agree with Musa’s statement that he had gone to Times Square, as he said, not to “attack Jews but to support Palestine.” The evidence showed that he and the other men had arrived in a pick-up-truck, and that one of the men threw a lit firecracker onto the street which “gravely injured a woman.”    

Judge Mennin then sentenced Musa to seven years in state prison followed by five years of post-release supervision. She explained further that her sentence, which was higher than what the prosecution had asked for, was also influenced by Musa’s recent, post-arrest, actions.

Musa had reportedly lied to his probation officer and was also accused of groping a female correction officer’s breasts in jail. Judge Mennin was not impressed by Mr. Lazzaro’s protestations that the officer had allegedly punched his client.

In the elevator, on the way to the street, Mr. Borgen told the Sun that he felt he had gotten “a satisfactory outcome.” While a female family member or friend hugged him, he added that Musa’s punishment was “a strong prison sentence and I think it sends a clear strong message.” 

Outside the courthouse, he told reporters “I want to thank the district attorney and the judge and everyone who participated in the decision making process. I am very satisfied with the outcome.”   

Mr. Borgen added that “it goes to show here in New York City, we all want justice, we all want the right thing. And when we see acts like what happened with me take place, everyone was shocked, and taken aback, and that cannot take place, we need to make a change.”

The sentences of two more defendants were adjourned to December 18th. 

The district attorney’s office recommended that Mohammed Othman, who pled guilty to one count of second-degree assault as a hate crime, be sent to prison for five years followed by five years post release supervision. And Mohammed Said Othman, who pled guilty to second-degree attempted gang assault, was offered a three year prison sentence, and three years post-release supervision, plus an additional third-degree assault as a hate crime punished by up to four years sentence.

Judge Mennin is not bound to these sentence recommendations, and can add time if new charges are brought forth. 

The youngest of the six defendants, who was a juvenile when the crime occurred, is currently being tried in family court. The juvenile has turned 18 in the meantime and it’s not clear where his case will end up, attorney Steven Fink, who is representing Mr. Borgen in a separate civil lawsuit, told the Sun. 

“It’s not only for Jewish people,” Mr. Fink had said earlier to reporters, “but hate crimes have to be dealt with seriously.” He said he hopes that Musa’s sentence will send a message that “no good” can come from hate crimes.

The New York Sun

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