CONCOURSE, the Bronx — The teen who allegedly stabbed and killed a classmate at school, and who also critically injured another student, is now home for the rest of the year, at least, despite the severity of the crimes to which he admits.
It's a situation that has infuriated the families of victims, but the accused knife attacker, Abel Cedeño, 18, insists that he was acting in self-defense.
Cedeño had walked into court here Wednesday morning in handcuffs — a jail inmate, with a half-million dollars' bail against him.
Cedeño faced manslaughter charges for his killing of classmate Matthew McCree, 15, at school last September 27. Cedeño also faced assault and criminal possession of a weapon charges in relation to his slashing fellow student Ariano Laboy, 16.
At his hearing, which had been set up to specifically consider his bail amount, Cedeño had hoped to have his $500,000 bail slashed to $250,000. Bronx Supreme Court Justice William Mogulescu ultimately agreed, having been persuaded by the arguments of Cedeño's attorney, gay rights activist Christopher Lynn.
"Did you see all the news reports about not protecting gay kids at that school?" Lynn asked the prosecutor as he appealed to the judge. "Never done it," Lynn exclaimed.
"They never protected him," Lynn went on, describing administrators at the school, the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation. Cedeño had gone "to the guidance counselor," Lynn argued. "The counselor said, 'Be a man.'"
Cedeño, who is openly gay, was also apparently considering gender transitioning at the time of the stabbings. He has always insisted that the other two students, McCree and Laboy, had beaten and bullied him, causing him to lash out violently, in response.
Part of the new bail amount was paid by State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. He’s also the pastor of a large, evangelical church, and has, in the past, been a vocal advocate against marriage equality. In spite of that, he led the effort to both get Cedeño’s bail reduced, and to get it paid.
In a written statement distributed to reporters after the judge's ruling, Cedeño said, in part, "Thank you to the Rev. Ruben Diaz, and the members of his Rock of Salvation Church. Because of your generosity 'I walked through the fire, but was not burned,'" Cedeño said, quoting scripture.
He also thanked "the many gay men who generously donated," and thanked the "corrections staff at Rikers who are 100 percent professionals but found the time to be kind..."
Cedeño's mother openly wept tears of joy in court after the judge's ruling, and was greeted with hugs and more tears from the couple dozen supporters who'd been in the courtroom.
A similar number had also shown up on the other side of the aisle in court to support the family of victim Matthew McCree.
"I'm pissed the hell off, excuse my language," Luna Dennis, McCree's mother, told PIX11 News after the judge's ruling. "I'm pissed. He gets to go home with his family for Christmas, and my son is frickin' in the dirt, and he gets to go home to his family? Yes, I'm pissed the hell off, and I feel like the frickin' system is failing me."
She, her attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, and a group of supporters held up signs reading, "Justice for Matthew" outside of court after the bail reduction decision. They also marched around the courthouse, chanting for the schools chancellor to resign.
"The school system has failed" McCree, Laboy and Cedeño, Rubenstein said. He is seeking damages from the New York City Department of Education in the case.
It has pointed out repeatedly that Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has visited the school multiple times since the stabbing and has provided support to the school and the community it serves.
Cedeño is now home, where he is monitored by a cellphone based tracking device and has to check in with corrections personnel weekly. He's next scheduled to be in court the first week of January.