fri 06/12/2019

Love and Hate Crime, BBC One review - Abel Cedeno was a killer, but was he also a victim? | reviews, news & interviews

Love and Hate Crime, BBC One review - Abel Cedeno was a killer, but was he also a victim?

Love and Hate Crime, BBC One review - Abel Cedeno was a killer, but was he also a victim?

Punchy documentary probes controversial murder case and the US justice system

Abel Cedeno with his legal team Dennis Walsh, Chris Lynn and Robert Feldman

This series examines murders in the USA “with elements of love and passion as well as prejudice”, and the second season opened (on BBC One) with "Killing in the Classroom", the story of the fatal stabbing of New York school student Matthew McCree by bisexual teenager Abel Cedeno. It was a case bristling with overtones of racism and homophobia, but this skilfully-made documentary also threw light on the arcane workings of the US justice system.

The fatal 2017 incident stemmed from persistent homophobic bullying of Cedeno, a solitary and apparently mild-mannered boy who preferred practising as a make-up artist to hanging out with local Bronx street gangs. Coming from a Hispanic background, he became a target for the macho Afro-American youths who comprised the bulk of his classmates.

Filmmaker Simon Gilchrist had assembled his material so that the balance of guilt and innocence swung tantalisingly to and fro, giving the film the feel of a reality-based drama like HBO’s The Night Of. Cedeno himself spoke to the camera, quietly explaining how endless abuse prompted him to buy a knife with the aim of deterring further assaults. Instead it seemed that the weapon merely escalated his next confrontation with McCree and the outcome was disastrous. However, the initial assumption that Cedeno was a reckless killer – the public attorney assigned to him immediately advised him to plead guilty – prompted a powerful backlash.

Gay rights lawyer Christopher Lynn launched a furious onslaught against what he saw as an attempt to railroad Cedeno into a grossly unjust conviction. He likened it to “the mob scene with the pitchforks and the torches”, with Cedeno typecast as “a hysterical queen who went psycho.” Lynn had powerful support from defence attorney Robert Feldman, an almost cartoon-like character with his bristling moustache, all-over tattoos and bullock-like weightlifter’s physique. “One stab to the heart and Mr McCree was history, and Abel was totally justified,” was Feldman’s lurid summary of the case.

But McCree’s family had their own legal juggernaut in the shape of celebrity “people’s champion” Sandy Rubenstein (pictured above), while the dead man’s grieving mother looked likely to sway any jury. A piece of video evidence at first seemed to favour Cedeno, before it emerged that the defence may have deleted the part which incriminated him. The story was a potent brew of real-life tragedy and grandstanding media circus, and will probably be a feature film before long. It also bore out the old truism that in the Bronx, “only the strong survive”.

  • The complete series of Love and Hate Crime is available on BBC iPlayer

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