John Greenwood ’20, the white student accused of beating a black Cornell student and calling him the N-word, will not be arraigned until December, his attorney and the local prosecutor announced on Monday.
The Tompkins County district attorney, Matthew Van Houten, requested the 60-day adjournment in Ithaca City Court in order to present the case to a grand jury, which could indict Greenwood on hate crime charges. The request, under state criminal procedure law, keeps Greenwood from pleading guilty in city court to misdemeanor assault and aggravated harassment, with which he is currently charged.
The arraignment, originally scheduled for Wednesday, will now take place on Dec. 1, Greenwood’s attorney, Ray Schlather J.D. ’76, said in an email to local media.
In the meantime, prosecutors will present at least three possible charges to a grand jury, as well as the state hate crime statutes. Van Houten told The Sun he will likely convene the grand jury, a group of between 16 and 23 people, on Oct. 5 or Oct. 12.
If at least 12 grand jurors decide there is “reasonable cause” that Greenwood targeted the assaulted student or committed any crime “in whole or in substantial part” because of a belief or perception regarding the student’s race, Greenwood would be indicted on hate crime charges, under the New York Hate Crimes Act of 2000.
The victim in the case, a junior at Cornell and a member of Kappa Sigma, told The Sun that Greenwood and several other men hit him in the face and called him the N-word on Eddy Street early in the morning of Sept. 15, the day Ithaca Police arrested Greenwood. The Collegetown assault has sparked a series of protests around campus and led Black Students United to issue a list of demands to President Martha Pollack following the assault.
Greenwood apologized for using “abhorrent” and “unacceptable” language but his lawyer denies that Greenwood was involved in any physical altercation or committed any crime.
Under the state act, the level of a crime is elevated by one step if it is deemed a hate crime. In this case, the misdemeanor assault and aggravated harassment charges could become Class E felonies if at least 12 grand jurors deem them hate crimes. Each Class E felony, upon a conviction, could bring up to four years in prison.
Grand jury proceedings are secret in New York, and even prosecutors will not be in the room as the grand jury deliberates. In addition to the current misdemeanors, Van Houten said he will also present the criminal mischief statute to grand jurors because Greenwood allegedly attempted to take the phone of a student who had recorded him.