A Westchester jury was unable to reach a verdict on a manslaughter charge in the trial of a man who fatally stabbed his sister’s ex-boyfriend in Mount Vernon, with a lone holdout juror favoring acquittal.
Acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary declared a mistrial on Thursday morning after the jury told him for the third time they did not expect to reach a unanimous verdict.
Carlton Naughton claims self-defense in the Aug. 27, 2021 killing of 35-year-old Chinyelu Browne during a knife fight on East Third St.
Neary had urged the jury to redouble its efforts on Wednesday after two notes indicating they were "hopelessly" deadlocked. The second indicated the vote was 11-1 without specifying for or against conviction. The jury told the lawyers after the mistrial was declared the majority favored conviction.
On Tuesday, the first full day of deliberations, the jury reached a partial verdict, finding Naughton guilty of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon. That felony conviction led Neary to revoke bail and order Naughton held at the county jail.
But the judge reversed himself after the mistrial and agreed to free Naughton while he awaits a retrial and sentencing, pleasing the defendant's relatives and friends in the courtroom.
Naughton, 44, faces up to 2⅓ to 7 years in prison on the weapon charge but could also get probation. A first-degree manslaughter charge carries a minimum prison term of five years and a maximum sentence of 25 years.
A spokesperson for the Westchester District Attorney's Office said prosecutors intend to retry Naughton on the homicide charge.
What led to the confrontation
Both men worked for the city of Mount Vernon, Browne in sanitation and Naughton in the water department.
Naughton’s sister had broken up with Browne last year following a tumultuous relationship. He did not take it well and there was harassing behavior towards her and her family. Three days before his death, Browne posted on social media a vulgar rap video he made targeting them. Naughton downplayed it during his trial testimony but Assistant District Attorney Brian Bendish cited it as a possible motive for Naughton to go after Browne when he spotted him the day of the fight.
Naughton insisted he was only stopping to get a drink. He first slowed down between First and Second avenues when he heard Browne curse at him from the sidewalk. He said he saw Browne start to pull away on his scooter so he figured it was fine to double park his city truck and go to the store.
But as soon as he got out, he testified, Browne walked toward him looking for a fight. Both men pulled out knives and circled each other in the middle of the street. Browne slashed Naughton but lost his knife as he swung through.
He started to take off, bumped into a car and fell to the sidewalk once Naughton caught up and swung his knife at him. Naughton punched at Browne with the hand that was holding the knife. Browne stood up and they were locked in a grip, with Browne holding Naughton’s wrist to keep him from stabbing him again. When they finally separated, Naughton went back to his truck and drove off.
Browne crossed the street, got on his scooter and drove around the corner before crashing into a car half a block away. He had suffered a stab wound to the heart and was pronounced dead a short time later at Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital.
A co-worker took Naughton to the same hospital, where he was treated for his facial wound and arrested after being interviewed briefly by a detective. He told them he did not know his assailant and that the stabbing took place a block and a half away from the actual scene. He made no mention of being involved himself in the knife fight.
What was argued
The detective never asked him about his knife. At that time, police had found a knife on East Third Street that they thought was used to kill Browne, not realizing then that it was Browne’s knife.
Naughton testified he dumped his knife in the garbage can as he entered the hospital, not to get rid of evidence but because it was dirty from the blood. It was never recovered.
He said he frequently carried the knife for work and only took it out of his pocket that afternoon to defend himself.
The two sides disagreed who the aggressor was in the fight, a key consideration for the jury when determining whether Naughton’s actions were justified. The prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt they were not justified.
Defense attorney Christina Hall focused on Browne pulling his knife out first and landing the first blow. She said Naughton, blood in his face and trying to make sure he wasn’t attacked more, did not even realize they had moved on to the sidewalk or that Browne had turned his back to him.
She said it would have been “miraculous” for Naughton, in that condition, to realize Browne no longer had the knife and that he feared throughout the altercation Browne might still have access to a gun.
“Initially my client wanted to make sure he was safe,” Hall told the jury Monday. “My client then defended himself and attempted to defend himself with the knife he had in his hand.”
Bendish urged jurors to see how Browne didn’t just turn his back. Once unarmed, he fled from Naughton, who gave chase, becoming the aggressor at that point, the prosecutor argued.
“No reasonable person could ever believe they were in mortal danger as (Browne) fled 40 feet from the defendant,” Bendish said in his summation. “It simply doesn’t fit the facts that that was self defense.”
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Mount Vernon manslaughter case ends in mistrial; DA intends to retry