On the blustery cold night of Nov. 29, 2017 in an abandoned railroad cut in Midtown Kingston, Seth Lyons had two dollars, a “crumb” of crack cocaine and a dead cell phone in his pocket. Just 20 years old, Lyons was already a veteran of mental hospitals and rehabs for diagnoses like bipolar disorder, acute anxiety disorder and abuse of any and every drug he could get his hands on.
That same night, Anthony Garro was walking down the tracks with a cache of beer, hoping to get some rest on a filthy couch that stood beneath a bridge over the railroad cut. The adopted son of an academic and medical researcher and a special education teacher, the 49-year-old Garro had, like Lyons struggled with substance abuse and homelessness. On what would be his last night on earth, Garro was living on the street. He’d been ejected from a local boarding house a few days earlier after falling off the wagon following a stint in a rehab facility. The previous day, he’d turned up at Kingston Hospital seeking treatment for frostbite.
What happened next is agreed upon by both sides in the second-degree murder trial of Seth Lyons, which continued this week in county court.
The two men met briefly by the couch as Lyons smoked crack with another homeless man. Lyons left and began climbing out of the railroad cut when he realized his cell phone was missing. Suspecting Garro might have taken it, he returned to the couch and demanded Garro empty his pockets. Garro demurred and Lyons attacked — first with his fists, then, after Garro allegedly reached for his genitals, a beer bottle, rocks, bricks, branches and other debris, including a 54-pound boulder that shattered Garro’s skull. In the frenzied attack, Lyons dragged Garro off the couch, stomped his head on a railroad tie and kicked him in the head and body. He pulled off Garro’s shirt and coat, yanked his pants to his ankles, empted a tube of anti-bacterial cream on his back and covered his body with a desiccated old Christmas tree that somebody had dumped in the rail bed. For most of the attack, Garro was either unconscious or, as Lyons believed, pretending to sleep on the couch as the blows rained down.
The next day, Lyons would tell Kingston police detectives that he’d had a bad night. Unnamed people were “freaking out on him,” his friend refused to share his crack pipe, he felt suicidal — and he wanted to Garro to suffer for it.
“I wanted to bash somebody’s head who really deserved it because of the way they were treating me,” Lyons told KPD detectives Adam Hotaling and Tim Bowers as he sat smoking a cigarette at a picnic table outside of police headquarters.
‘That’s when I lost it’
While Senior Assistant District Attorney Mike Kavanagh and defense lawyer Bryan Rounds agreed on what happened beneath the Elmendorf Street bridge that night, they put forth different theories of what was going though Lyons’ mind during those few minutes of explosive, lethal violence.
Rounds, backed by defense psychiatrist Stephen Price, argued that Garro’s alleged groping of his assailant triggered an “extreme emotional disturbance” in his client. A state of mental distress so severe as to cause what the law terms a “profound lack of self control.” In Lyons case, the defense argued, the extreme emotional disturbance triggered by Garro’s action was rooted in child sexual abuse by a family friend. In the picnic table conversation with Hotaling and Bowers (which he did not realize was recorded) Lyons tells the detectives that he began punching Garro as he lay on the couch pretending to sleep and continued to hit him after Garro jumped up warned him that he was a former Marine and threw a single weak punch before returning to lay on the couch. But the attack, Lyons told police, escalated after Garro rose from the couch a second time and tried to grab his crotch.
“He tried some gay molestation shit,” Lyons told the detectives. “He started moving towards me, grabbing my shit. That’s when I lost it.”
Months later, in interviews with psychiatrists for the prosecution and defense, Lyons would tell a different version in which Garro actually shoved him to the ground, yanked at his pants and tried to perform oral sex on him.
Rounds told jurors that police knew immediately that Lyons had serious psychiatric issues. Shortly after Lyons’ was arrested, Bowers is caught on tape talking to Kavanagh, telling the prosecutor that Lyons, who had just confessed the crime, was “crazier than a shithouse rat.” Later, he said, police and prosecution forensic psychiatrist Kevin Smith would take pains to avoid words like “paranoid” “hallucinations” and “bipolar” which appear in Lyons psychiatric history. Smith, Rounds argued, “cherry-picked” elements of that history and his own interview with him to make him out to be a manipulative liar, while ignoring evidence of serious psychiatric issues that could make him prone to an extreme emotional disturbance.
“They know right away that there are psychiatric issues here and they set about finding ways to dispel the notion that [Lyons] did not have the intent to kill Mr. Garro and dispel the notion that he acted under extreme emotional disturbance.”
On his cross examination of Price, Kavanagh noted there was nothing in Lyons’ extensive psychiatric history prior to the murder that indicated sexual abuse. In his summation Wednesday morning, he told jurors that common sense would indicate that Garro’s supposed grabbing of Lyons genitals was a desperate act of self-defense, not a sexual assault and that his later story about Garro pushing him down and attacking him was contradicted by blood evidence which showed Garro was on the couch when he was fatally bludgeoned. Kavanagh also argued that Lyons crystal clear recollection of the assault and the deliberate nature of the violence indicated that Lyons was not in an uncontrolled frenzy.
“He’s aware of what he’s doing, where he is and what is happening,” Kavanagh told jurors. “And I submit that he was conscious and aware of the impact he’s having, snuffing out Anthony Garro’s life.”
The jury’s options
If Lyons is found guilty of second-degree murder he faces a sentence of 25 years to life. If jurors find him guilty but that he acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance, he will be automatically guilty of first-degree manslaughter which carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 25.
In addition to the psychiatric defense, Rounds also argued that Lyons actions did not meet the legal standard for second-degree murder because there is no evidence that he intended for the beating to kill Garro. Rounds noted that jurors had the option to convict Lyons of first-degree manslaughter if they found that he acted with intent to “cause serious injury” to Garro, or second-degree manslaughter if they found he acted in reckless manner, i.e. in a way that a normal person was likely to know posed a serious risk of death or injury. Either verdict, Rounds told jurors, would have serious consequences for his client.
“There will be zero winners,” Rounds told the jury. “There will be no party, not for Mr. Garro’s family, not for my client’s family.”
Rounds noted Lyons’ actions in the hours after the murder: He went to Kingston Hospital for treatment of a cut on his hand suffered during his attack on Garro, then turned up at a deli less than 100 yards from the crime scene, all while wearing clothing covered in Garro’s blood. Rounds argued that those actions indicated that Lyons left the crime scene believing that he had simply beaten Garro and left him in a humiliating position, not killed him. During his interview with police, Rounds said, Lyons insisted that Garro was still alive when he left the scene. And, while Lyons said repeatedly that he wanted Garro to suffer, he never tells cops that he intended to kill him.
“He’s saying horrible things, horrible things about what he did,” Rounds told jurors. “But he never says, ‘I wanted him to die.’”
DA: Lyons lied
Kavanagh said that Lyons’ actions belied a manipulative effort to evade responsibility for a deliberate murder. When he went to Kingston Hospital for treatment, he reminded jurors, Lyons told staff there that he was injured after he was “jumped by five or six black guys” — a lie he would later repeat to police. He returned to the crime scene, Kavanagh suggested, because he wanted to see if the body had been discovered. When he was spotted by a cop in a deli less than 100 yards from the crime scene, he was wearing bloody clothes, while carrying a fresh set that he had just pulled from a nearby donation box. When officer Ed Shuman approached him in the deli saying he wanted to talk, Lyons asked that he be allowed to change clothes first.
“This is a calculating, manipulative person,” Kavanagh said.
Kavanagh used a coroner’s chart and a recitation of Garro’s horrific skull injuries, caused by at least 14 separate impacts with solid objects, to make the case that Lyons fully intended to kill his victim. At one point, Kavanagh took a pair of blood-stained rocks — one the size of a hardcover book, the other a slab the size of a computer monitor — from evidence boxes and placed them before jurors to illustrate his argument. Lyons, he said, had knowingly escalated the fury of his assault in an effort to kill, not hurt, his victim.
“He went from a bottle to a brick to a rock to boulder,” Kavanagh told jurors. “That is intentional murder.”