Both sides agreed that the crime was brutal, senseless and committed by Seth Lyons. But, in opening arguments in county court Tuesday, attorneys for the prosecution and defense offered different theories of what had motivated the 21-year-old homeless man to savagely beat and kill 49-year-old Anthony Garro beneath a bridge on Elmendorf Street in the early hours of Nov. 29, 2017.
Garro’s body was found stripped, his sweatpants pulled to his knees next to a blood-soaked sofa in the rail cut around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 29. Two hours later, Lyons walked into a deli 100 yards from the crime scene and into police custody after KPD officer Ed Shuman, who was inside reviewing security camera footage for clues in the case, noticed his blood-soaked clothing. Lyons would later confess to police that he had assaulted Garro sometime after midnight on the 29th. He is charged with second-degree murder and faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in state prison if convicted.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Mike Kavanagh told jurors that the crime was as callous as it was ugly. Garro, a homeless alcoholic who was sleeping on the streets after being ejected from a boarding house a few days before, crossed paths with Lyons as he returned to his “home” — a filthy couch beneath the bridge — with some beer sometime after midnight on the 29th. Lyons, a onetime Port Ewen resident, was under the bridge with another homeless man smoking crack. They sat with Garro for a short time then moved on. Kavanagh said that Lyons then realized he was missing his cell phone. Suspecting Garro might have taken it, he returned to the couch and demanded to search his pockets. Garro demurred. What followed, Kavanagh said, was a “senseless slaughter.”
During the attack, Kavanagh said, Garro threw a single weak punch and grabbed Lyons genitals in a desperate effort to ward off the assault. Lyons, meanwhile, battered Garro with a beer bottle, a brick, tree limbs fists and feet. The killing blow likely came after Lyons dropped a 54-pound boulder on Garro’s head, crushing the left side of his skull. Forensic pathologist Dr. Charles Catanese would later testify that Garro suffered 14 separate lacerations to the head from 14 different blows. The majority, he said, were inflicted as Garro lay unconscious or otherwise immobilized.
“Seth Lyons didn’t just murder Anthony Garro,” Kavanagh told jurors. “He savagely bludgeoned him to death in a manner that will shock you. He believed [Garro] deserved to suffer and he spared no effort to make sure that he did.”
Rounds: Focus on the facts
Defense Attorney Bryan Rounds, in his opening statement, told jurors to leave aside emotion and come to a verdict based on the facts. Facts that he said would clearly show that Lyons’ mental state was so disordered at the time of the attack that he could not possibly form the “intent to kill” necessary to sustain a charge of second-degree murder. Lyons, he told jurors, acted from “extreme emotional disturbance” based on “significant” pre-existing mental health issues which were exacerbated by having been awake for “days on end” while living on the streets and smoking crack cocaine.
Rounds told jurors that they would hear a frank assessment of his client’s mental state shortly after the killing from veteran KPD detective Tim Bowers. Bowers, Rounds told the jury is caught on tape — the same recording in which Lyons confessed to the crime — telling another cop, “He confessed, but he’s crazier than a shithouse rat.”
Rounds also suggested his client’s actions the morning of the murder would show further evidence of his state of mind. After killing Garro, Lyons showed up at Kingston Hospital seeking treatment for a small cut on his finger and a place to warm up and get a meal. Later that morning, he returned to a site less than a block from the crime scene, in a neighborhood swarming with police investigating the murder. Lyons, Rounds told jurors, had walked straight past a marked KPD car parked out front and into the deli where Shuman was reviewing security footage.
“There is plenty of evidence that will help you decide what was going on inside my client’s head,” Rounds told the jury.
In his own opening statement, Kavanagh anticipated Rounds’ psychiatric defense, arguing that the evidence would show that Lyons was indeed coherent and sane at the time of the murder. Kavanagh noted that when questioned by Shuman about the blood on his clothes, Lyons told the cop that had been set upon and robbed by “five or six black guys” the previous night. Later in an interview with detectives, Lyons repeatedly lied and sought to conceal his guilt before confessing the crime.
“His attempts to manipulate and deceive mean he was not crazy,” Kavanagh told jurors.