Jury hands down $43M verdict in lawsuit against Goetz

By The Associated Press
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 24, 1996

NEW YORK - Twelve years after he shot four black youths on a subway train, Bernhard Goetz was ordered yesterday to pay $43 million to the one left paralyzed by his final bullet, the one he told: ''You don't look so bad. Here's another.''

The Bronx jury of four blacks and two Hispanics deliberated 41/2 hours before ruling unanimously that the white subway gunman had acted recklessly and without justification in shooting Darrell Cabey, now 30.

The jury awarded Cabey $18 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.

The chances of Cabey ever collecting are slight. Goetz's notoriety and legal bills have left the 48-year-old self-employed electronics expert with little money.

The verdict came nine years after a criminal trial in which a mostly white jury acquitted Goetz of attempted murder and convicted him of illegally possessing a gun. He served 81/2 months in jail.

Goetz was not in the courtroom for the verdict; he reportedly took the subway home. A call to his home in Manhattan was not immediately returned.

In closing arguments, Cabey's lawyer, Ronald Kuby, branded Goetz a murderous racist, citing remarks Goetz made about the four youths that he ''wanted to kill them all'' and ''could have gouged their eyes out.''

Kuby said, ''It is as damning a chronicle as one could ever have. .... How much more proof do you need?''

His voice rising, Kuby said, ''I don't care how much you award in punitive damages. Bankrupt him. Make sure he never enjoys life as a rich man. Make sure if he wins the lottery, Darrell Cabey wins the lottery.''

Goetz's lawyer, Darnay Hoffman, reminded the jury that Cabey was quoted in a 1985 newspaper interview as saying that his friends were about to rob Goetz because he ''looked like easy bait.''

Hoffman admitted that Goetz's own words ''damned him tremendously,'' including his remark that Cabey's mother should have had an abortion and his reference at a community meeting in 1980 to ''spics and niggers.''

''He's a nerd, a geek, a peckerwood, a cracker,'' Hoffman said of his own client. But Goetz was ''not some cool, calculating racist,'' just a frightened man, the lawyer said.

The subway gunman case held national attention for more than a decade, prompting debate about urban vigilantism and race relations in New York City. The National Rifle Association donated $40,000 toward Goetz's legal expenses.

Goetz shot Cabey and three other unarmed young men on Dec. 22, 1984. He later said the four were about to rob him. The young men said they were only panhandling when they asked him for $5.

Goetz has said that before shooting Cabey, he told the 19-year-old, ''You don't look so bad. Here's another.''

Cabey was paralyzed and suffered brain damage. He uses a wheelchair, and his family says he has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old.

Earlier this month, Goetz took the witness stand for the first time and chillingly recounted the shootings. He said ''that shine'' in victim Troy Canty's eyes and ''that smile'' made him snap.

Court papers show Goetz's annual income fell from $100,000 a year to about $20,000 in the years since the shooting, and he went through $60,000 in donations and $250,000 of his own money on legal costs.

But Kuby said last week he believed Goetz had a $100,000 inheritance now held by relatives; under state law, Cabey could collect 10 percent of Goetz's earnings for the next 20 years.

Regardless of his financial status, a verdict against Goetz was needed to ''deter other people from doing the kind of thing Bernie Goetz did to Darrell Cabey,'' Kuby told the jury.

During the trial, Hoffman, trying only his second case, sat statuelike as a smirking Goetz volunteered damaging testimony under harsh questioning from Kuby. Hoffman was so silent that the judge once interjected, ''Sustained,'' even though Hoffman had made no objection on behalf of his client.

Hoffman rested his case after only two hours and two witnesses - a psychiatrist who testified about reactions under stress, and columnist Jimmy Breslin, who related Cabey's ''easy bait'' remark.

For more than a decade, Kuby had worked on the case with his longtime law partner, civil rights attorney William Kunstler, who died in 1995.