FAR ROCKAWAY, Queens — Shirley Holliday raised two sons at the Red Fern Houses in Far Rockaway, Queens and worried about street life altering the course of their youth.
Both sons became fathers in their teens. Her youngest son, Wavell Wint, would be dead at 22, fatally shot when leaving the hip-hop movie “Belly,” outside the Linden Boulevard Multiplex in East New York, on Nov. 5, 1998.
The shooter was a 24-year-old white man from Midwood, Brooklyn — Donald Kagan — who had graduated from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Kagan was carrying an unlicensed gun, something he had been arrested for once before.
He said Wavell Wint tried to steal his gold chain repeatedly outside the movie theater, even after Kagan flashed his weapon.
Kagan tried to walk away, he said, but Wint came charging back at him and they struggled over the gun.
Wint was hit twice with 9 mm bullets.
He died at the hospital.
“He said he could see the eyes of my son, every time he closes his eyes,” Shirley Holliday recalled recently, quoting Kagan. “So I know how that felt.”
Wint’s family reached out to PIX11 Investigates, after learning through our reports that Kagan had recently been paroled from state prison.
Kagan spent 16 ½ years behind bars; two judges who reviewed his case believed he had been unfairly convicted of murder and should have been jailed on a lesser charge.
The judges asked the New York State Parole Board to release Kagan, and he was set free in July 2015.
One of the judges who spoke up for Kagan was Frank Barbaro, a now-retired Supreme Court justice who was the one who convicted Kagan of Wint’s murder in a 1999 non-jury trial.
“I’m sorry,” a crying Barbaro said when speaking of Kagan in a recent interview. “But sorry doesn’t change the fact that he spent all that time in jail.”
Wint’s family doesn’t accept Judge Barbaro’s contention that he was biased against Kagan in the original trial, branding Kagan a racist who was intent on killing a black man.
The judge said he realized years later he hadn’t really considered the trial testimony—and Kagan’s appearance on the stand in his own defense.
Wint’s family doesn’t think this shooting was ever about race.
“He went to see one of the biggest minority movies that was out at the time, which was ‘Belly,’” Wint’s older brother, Jerome Robertson, said of Kagan. “To me, he was one of us. Because if you dress like us, carry your swag like us, go see the same movies—it doesn’t matter that he was white.”
“His best friend was black,” Wint’s mother pointed out.
“It was all about one man killing another man,” said Jerome Robertson.
Robertson said he’s done some serious reflecting in the years since his younger brother was killed.
“I put myself in that guy’s place a thousand times,” Robertson said, speaking of Kagan. “Me and my brother, and probably Kagan, we were in that life.”
Robertson, who eventually worked as a security guard for an armored car company for 10 years, added, “Having a gun is power. You feel invincible.”
Kagan has regretted bringing the 9 mm weapon to the movie theater for the past 17 years.
“I feel badly for the family,” Kagan told PIX11. “And I hope one day they can forgive me for what happened.”
Shirley Holliday, Wint’s mother, said she’s already forgiven him.
“I just say, ‘He’s free, God bless him,” Holliday told us from her living room in Far Rockaway. Was it easy to forgive, we asked? “It wasn’t easy, but I did,” Wint’s mother told PIX11.
Wint’s older brother said he also reached the point of forgiveness 10 years ago, after lots of praying.
“I had to forgive him for me,” Robertson told PIX11, tapping his chest. “He could get one million dollars or 12 million dollars. At the end of the day, he still has to answer to God.”
Wint’s mother hopes Donald Kagan will move on with his life now, adding, “Try not to get in any more trouble.”