The new attorney for John Greenwood ’20, the Cornell student charged with a hate crime, said on Wednesday that his client never touched the victim, that he took a lie detector test proving as much and that he is on leave but plans to return to Cornell.
Ronald P. Fischetti, a prominent New York lawyer, said there was “trash talking” and “pushing and shoving” in the early hours of Sept. 15, the morning Greenwood was arrested in Collegetown. But Fischetti said his client, who is white, did not punch Solomon Shewit ’19, who is black and said he was attacked by Greenwood and several other white men.
Fischetti said that after an altercation on Eddy Street, Greenwood and his friends returned to their neighboring house and closed the door.
“At that point, the altercation was over,” Fischetti said. Then, the lawyer said, “Mr. Shewit came running from his house to their house, … burst into the door where they were and started a fight with a number of people who were there.”
“He entered the house, he started the fight,” Fischetti said of Shewit, who did not respond to a text message seeking comment on Wednesday morning. “There’s no question about that. And he got a bloody nose.”
Shewit has told police and The Sun that he attempted to separate a fight near his house when he heard a group of white men yelling “Nigger! Nigger! Fuck you nigger!” as they walked away from the area.
Asked if his client had used the slurs, Fischetti declined to comment, saying, “You’ll see that at trial.” Greenwood has apologized for using “unacceptable and inappropriate language,” and a witness recorded a video of a man appearing to be Greenwood calling another student a “sand-nigger.”
That witness told police that Shewit “ran over” to Greenwood’s house “before anyone could actually stop him,” but was not trying to start a fight.
Shewit was disoriented after the altercation and his shirt was wet with blood, witnesses told police. Shewit spoke to The Sun from the hospital in September on the day of the incident, and he later said he had been told at Cayuga Medical Center that he did not have a broken nose or a concussion.
Fischetti has represented many high-profile clients, including Gene Gotti, the brother of Gambino mob boss John Gotti, in a racketeering case. Speaking to local reporters in Ithaca City Court on Wednesday morning, he said he plans to take the case to trial and has “scientific evidence” that Shewit was in Greenwood’s house, although he declined to provide the purported evidence.
“That’s all I’ll say. That’s all I’ll tell you,” he said.
Fischetti, a trial attorney who has replaced Ithaca attorney Ray Schlather J.D. ’76 in the case, said Greenwood took a lie-detector test at his request. Greenwood said during the test that Shewit had been inside the house and that he had not punched Shewit, Fischetti said, adding that the results would be included in a motion filed later and would show that Greenwood had answered truthfully.
“Jack never touched him,” Fischetti said, referring to his client and Shewit.
Tompkins County’s top prosecutor, Matthew Van Houten, charged Greenwood this month with three Class A misdemeanors: attempted assault in the third degree as a hate crime, aggravated harassment in the second degree and criminal mischief in the fourth degree. Van Houten said Greenwood damaged the iPhone 7 of the woman who recorded him using slurs, warranting the last charge.
Greenwood did not answer questions from reporters at his lawyer’s direction.
“He’s a fine young man,” Fischetti said of Greenwood. “He’s a champion squash player. He loves Cornell.”
The coach of the Cornell squash team, David Palmer, previously told The Sun that he cut Greenwood from the team shortly before the assault because he had not been regularly participating in team training.
Fischetti confirmed that Cornell’s case against Greenwood, handled by the Office of the Judicial Administrator, is on hold until the court case ends.
“He’s on leave and plans to stay in Cornell,” Fischetti said.
Cornell spokesperson Lindsey Hadlock declined to confirm Greenwood’s status at Cornell, but President Martha Pollack said earlier this month that Greenwood is “not on campus.”
Fischetti took issue with how Van Houten handled the case, saying the prosecutor should have left the hate crime charges up to a grand jury, as Van Houten initially said he would do.
“The district attorney decided to charge this as a hate crime for a bloody nose and some trash talking back and forth and I think that’s wrong,” Fischetti said.
Van Houten told The Sun in the weeks after the arrest that he planned to present the evidence to a grand jury and let the citizens decide whether to charge Greenwood with a hate crime. He later reversed that decision, deciding to charge Greenwood with a hate crime without taking the charges to a grand jury, because the charges were reduced to misdemeanors based on Shewit’s injuries.
“That’s wrong, that’s not fair and that’s not what he said,” Fischetti said of Van Houten’s decision.
Van Houten, who was in the county court on Wednesday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Greenwood is also being represented by Ithaca lawyer John A. Stevens.
Defense motions are due in the case on Feb. 2, and prosecutors will need to respond by Feb. 16, said Judge Richard M. Wallace, who released Greenwood on his own recognizance. The parties will return to court on Feb. 21, but Greenwood received permission from Judge Wallace to not appear with his attorneys for some future appearances.