There was chaos outside a New York courtroom on Tuesday after Abel Cedeño, a Bronx teen who says he endured years of homophobic bullying, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the killing of a classmate.
Cedeño claimed that he was acting in self defense when he bought an illegal switchblade knife online in 2017 and used it to stab two classmates at his high school. The New York City Anti-Violence Project called the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation culpable for failing to stop the bullying.
Those arguments didn’t persuade a court, which found Cedeño guilty in July of assault, manslaughter, and carrying an illegal weapon.
It’s clear that Cedeño did indeed stab two classmates on Sept. 17, 2017. After some broken pencils and paper were thrown at him, Cedeño left class, returned with a knife, and plunged it into 15-year-old Matthew McCree, who died at the scene. He also stabbed Ariane LaBoy, who tried to intervene. LaBoy survived, but his hand was injured so seriously that he would go on to require home-schooling.
But other facts around the killing remain in dispute. While Cedeño says that he was tormented for being gay, others say the two victims didn’t take part in the bullying. Prosecutors pointed out that Cedeño had posted images of himself brandishing the knife on social media before the incident, indicating that he planned to use it.
Cedeño’s lawyers had asked for him to remain free until sentencing so he could undergo psychiatric counseling and medication, but the judge ordered him held so that he could be treated while in custody.
“I believe you paid an emotional price for the repeated acts of being bullied, which undermined your self-image and psychological well-being,” New York City Criminal Court reportedly told Cedeño. He added that the bullied teen’s “history is not an excuse for what [he] did.”
Gross sentenced Cedeño to 14 years in prison for manslaughter, eight for assault, and 90 days for criminal possession of a weapon. The sentences will be served concurrently, followed by five years of supervision.
Gross cited the needs of the victims in handing down the sentence, pointing out the trauma endured by the nearly two dozen students who witnessed the killing.
Cedeño delivered a statement at the hearing. “I’m not the same person as I was two years ago,” he told the court. “[…] I call myself a monster. I call myself a murderer for everything I’ve done, everything that happened. ... I feel horrible every day. I wish I could take it all back.”
The Anti-Violence Project said it is “heartbroken by the conviction and sentencing of Abel Cedeño and the circumstances which led to the fatal incident at his school.”
“The inaction of the NYC Department of Education created a climate of increased bullying and lack of safety for Abel,” the advocacy group said in a statement, “and led to the tragic altercation that injured Ariane LaBoy and took the life of Matthew McCree.”
The parents and families of the victims delivered statements in court as well, recounting the sight of gory wounds and unbearable emotional pain. Louna Dennis, the mother of the slain student, was forced to leave the courtroom after an outburst during Tuesday’s hearing. She later told reporters that she didn’t believe Cedeño’s apology.
Following the sentencing, there was a scuffle outside the court. Video shows a melee involving several people, with one individual on the ground. Witnesses said LaBoy, who survived the stabbing, was told he should have been killed as well, leading to a fight.
Cedeño’s attorneys say they’ll appeal the sentencing.