Dick Wolf’s new partnership with Netflix, Homicide: New York, celebrates the city’s bluest – those investigators who specialize in the aftermath of untimely death. The true crime docuseries follows the format of Law & Order, and is forced to dramatically condense the work done by law enforcement, like so many dusty boxes in an evidence room.

“On the island of Manhattan, there are two detective squads dedicated to homicides: Manhattan North and Manhattan South,” each episode begins. “They investigate the most brutal and difficult murders. These are their stories.” Central Park is a shared story for all New Yorkers, whether their own neighborhood boasts Tompkins Park, Morningside Park, or through the arch at Washington Square. 

Native New Yorkers of all boroughs, and tourists from around the world visiting Strawberry Fields in the ‘90s probably saw Daphne Abdela and Christopher Vasquez rollerblading out of the corners of their eyes. Central Park was their neighborhood park. Here is the full story, including the bits that Homicide: New York didn’t include.

How Were Daphne Abdela and Christopher Vasquez Caught?

The May 1997 stabbing death highlighted in episode 2, “Central Park Slaying,” was particularly brutal. According to the docuseries, McMorrow was stabbed and eviscerated in one of the most gruesome crime scenes to ever dirty Central Park Lake. Medical examinations revealed 30 stab wounds across McMorrow’s body, with additional injuries, including six stab wounds to the heart, and a gutted abdomen. The head and hands were nearly severed from the body.

Although it was one of the city’s most notorious murder cases, it was far from the hardest to solve. The first officers to reach The Majestic apartment building at 115 Central Park West, home to one of the teenage killers, found both prime suspects washing away evidence. Regular series analyst Barbara Butcher spent 23 years at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner, and was attached to the case. In her book, What the Dead Know: Learning About Life as a New York City Death Investigator, Butcher writes “Police found the two sitting naked in the bathtub, washing away blood – the result, they claimed, of a rollerblading accident in Central Park.”

Abdela was the person who initially placed a second 911 call alerting police to a dead body floating in Central Park Lake. She represented herself as a witness, absolving herself by shifting the blame to Vasquez. “Detectives escorted her to the park, where she showed them the body and cried out, ‘I tried to save you,’” Butcher writes in What the Dead Know. “It didn’t take long for detectives to poke holes in the teenager’s account and for the real story to come out.”

Authorities identified the victim because he had a business card on him. Detectives later discovered McMorrow’s wallet in Abdela’s room. A knife with the victim’s DNA was found in Vasquez’s possession. In June 1997, Abdela and Vasquez were indicted for murder and robbery.

As the detectives in the docuseries contend, most of what went down the slop sink drain slipped like dirty water through the hands of the cops who weren’t allowed to get a grip on it. Defense attorneys can do that.

Who Was Defense Lawyer Benjamin Brafman?

Born in Brooklyn, Benjamin Brafman represented Genovese crime family boss Vincent “Chin” Gigante, and Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, the Gambino underboss who ratted out John Gotti, before defending Abdela, the adopted daughter of a wealthy Upper West Side family. Brafman also represented ex-film producer Harvey Weinstein, but ultimately parted ways. The famously formidable attorney is known for celebrity clients, not particularly likable ones.

“The baggage that comes with a remarkable track record is that people feel that you can pull off an acquittal despite what seems overwhelming evidence,” Brafman told Meryl Gordon for the Jan. 12, 1998 New York piece, “Little Big Man.” “But you can’t do it every time.”

Under a second round of questioning in a meeting with police, Abdela acknowledges kicking McMorrow with her rollerblades from behind. She’d already admitted instructing Vasquez to gut the body, and weigh it by stuffing it with rocks. 

“Daphne admitted to being at the scene of the murder,” Butcher writes in What the Dead Know. “She admitted to kicking McMorrow’s legs out from under him and provoking his actions, even the instruction to gut him. ‘He’s a fatty,’ she was reported as saying. ‘He’ll sink.’ She denied taking part in the murder herself.”

Under Brafman’s counsel, Abdela confessed to participating in McMorrow’s killing, pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in March 1998. Abdela was sentenced to 39 months to 10 years in prison. Rumor circulated that her well-connected attorney pulled strings to drop the initial second-degree murder charge. This was what Vasquez faced when his trial began in November 1998. He was being blamed for all of it, but his defense rested on undisclosed details.

Did Daphne Abdela and Michael McMorrow Know Each Other?

Similar to Homicide: New York’s now-retired NYPD Homicide Detective Robert Mooney’s downtime devotional Grateful Dead badge, the buttoned-down, 44-year-old real estate agent Michael “Irish” McMorrow had sidelines. Like Jennifer Stahl, one of the shooting victims from episode 1, “The Carnegie Deli Massacre,” he was reportedly an aspiring musician, but also a hard-drinking life-of-the-party with a large group of friends, and a close family. McMorrow lived with his elderly mother at 93rd Street and Second Avenue.

The series’ detectives conclude the gruesome death was due to being “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” but McMorrow was also a Central Park regular, and encountered Abdela at Alcoholics Anonymous. “Daphne had met the decedent from the lake, in a substance abuse rehabilitation program,” Butcher confirms in What the Dead Know. “An affable man prone to binge drinking, he liked to hang out in the park in the evening, often at Strawberry Fields, the little enclave dedicated to the memory of John Lennon.”

Detectives in the series say Abdela and Vasquez were sharing drinks with McMorrow and a group of his friends earlier in the evening, and were dispersed by cops. “They came across some park regulars, a cluster of young rollerbladers, and a group of about eight adults who were drinking and listening to the radio,” Butcher explains in What the Dead Know. “Daphne had some Heineken with her she seemed keen to share. Like a ‘beer fairy,’ offering a bottle to a large, middle-age man. She recognized him from rehab. They got to talking, and soon McMorrow was following the kids deeper into the park, away from the crowd. Nobody knows what the three talked about. Nobody knows what provoked the murder.”

The documentary says McMorrow followed the beer. The series cites witnesses claiming an already-intoxicated Abdela was belligerent with random adults earlier that night, saying “’before this day is over I’m going to kill someone,” Butcher writes in What the Dead Know. “Slice was the word she had used. She admitted she apparently challenged other people in the park to a fight.”

As part of her deal with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office, Abdela didn’t testify at Vasquez’s trial, avoiding cross-examination from the defense team of the individual she accused. The decision to allow Abdela to enter a plea without testifying would come back to haunt prosecutors and defense alike.

“That opened up an avenue for the defense to blame her with impunity, because she wasn’t going to be there to refute it,” an anonymous juror said in The New York Daily News’ “Park Slay Verdict Due To System, Juror Says.” “That adds up to reasonable doubt.”

Where Are Daphne Abdela and Christopher Vazquez Now?

Vasquez’s lawyer, Arnold N. Kriss, accused Abdela of the murder and scapegoating his client. Defense has the right to introduce evidence implicating someone other than the defendant of a crime, and offer evidence affecting the credibility, according to CaseLawFindLaw. David Rohde’s Nov. 12, 1998 New York Times article, “An Attacker’s Statement at Issue in Central Park Slaying Trial,” shows Kriss wanted a report, and statements made by Abdela, which included previously undisclosed details “about the relationship between the victim and one of his attackers,” read to the jury. Lead prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos objected because reports were sealed after Kriss dropped an earlier psychiatric defense.

The McMorrow family blasted jurors as “gutless” when Vasquez was acquitted of second-degree murder charges that carried a life sentence. The manslaughter verdict carried a 3- to 10-year prison term. “The only thing we could work with was the evidence, and there were so many holes in it,’” a juror, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained to The Daily News

Jurors blamed the legal system. “The travesty was a system that kept so much evidence out of the courts, so that in the end the jury was left with a very limited choice,” an unidentified juror told The New York Daily News. Daphne Abdela and Christopher Vasquez both served nearly seven years in prison and were released in 2004.

According to The New York Post’s Jan. 22, 2004 article “Killer’s Park Bench Apology; Leaves Note: ‘I Tried To Save You,’” the “Baby-faced Butcher,” Daphne Abdela, left a note of apology in Strawberry Fields two days after being released from prison. Signed only “D,” it was found next to a bouquet of carnations frozen to a bench which bears a plaque with the name Michael “Irish” McMorrow. The letter said “Rest easy. I tried to save you. I’m sorry I failed you. I’m sorry for the pain I caused you & your family.”

Homicide: New York is now streaming on Netflix.

The post What Homicide: New York Leaves Out About the Michael McMorrow Case appeared first on Den of Geek.

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