Friday, December 10, 2004

East Village Stabbing

Bojan Radulovic, known as “Bo” to his friends, was granted American citizenship in early June, 1997, and two of his friends, John Baek and Jason “Jay” Weisman, just turned 21. So on June 6, Radulovic, Baek, Weisman, and three of their mutual friends took the train from Long Island into Manhattan to celebrate, according to court transcripts.

After a few drinks, the six young men found themselves in the East Village on Third Avenue, a wide six-lane boulevard filled with taxis and cars traveling in both directions. The streetlights and neon signs lit the street as brightly as any in Manhattan excluding Times Square. The newsstands on the corners held copies of the Village Voice’s annual “Summer in the City” issue. The cool summer evening was filled with the sort of possibilities that only a pre-9/11 New York could afford.

After being turned away from Webster Hall, a popular club, Radulovic and his friends settled for Nevada Smith, a bar to which they’d never been. As they pushed their way through the crowded front room, Baek bumped into Bernard Martini, who would become Radulovic’s killer just a few minutes later – an encounter as coincidental as it was violent, court testimony showed.

Radulovic was Serbian; Martini was Albanian, making the blood spilled on the corner of Third Avenue and 12th Street a microcosm of the Balkan conflict from which their parents had purposefully removed them. Though Martini’s defense hinged upon Radulovic attacking him because of his ethnicity, it appeared as if their countries of origin were just a “bizarre coincidence,” according to Detective Peter Salerno, the officer who investigated the case.

“I interviewed a lot of people,” Salerno said. “And I never heard that. [Their ethnicities] never played into it.”

Bojan Radulovic was born on July 7, 1971 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Five years later, Bernard Martini was born on the other side of the Korab Mountains in Lac, Albania, according to their mothers.

The Radulovices came to America in 1974, when Bojan was only two years old. They stayed six and a half years before returning to Yugoslavia. They came back to America on January 31, 1986; Bojan was 14 then. He finished high school with high honors and then chose the closest school to which he was accepted, the New York Institute of Technology, his mother, Nebenka Radulovic, said as the first witness in the trial of Bernard Martini, her son’s murderer, who was tried under the name Bernardo Martinaj, which Martini claimed was not an alias but a typo stemming from his passport application in Albania.

Radulovic was a full-time student at NYIT while working as a parking attendant at two restaurants. It was at one of these restaurant parking jobs where Radulovic met Baek, a South Korean immigrant five years younger than Radulovic, Baek later testified. Radulovic also worked for his parents, who operate a travel agency out of their home, specializing in river cruises of Europe, Ukraine, and Russia. Radulovic had just finished classes for his last year of college. June 7, the day he died, was exactly one month shy of his 26th birthday, his mother later said.

Bernard Martini was the first member of his family to come to America. He was 16 and traveling under a false name, Imed Shabani, court records and his mother said. Before leaving for America, Bernard’s mother arranged for him to take English classes with the husband of her friend in their home, which was illegal in Communist Albania, his mother said. Bernard picked up languages easily, and by the time he killed Radulovic, he knew seven.

Martini’s first run-in with the law was in 1995, when he was arrested in Times Square for possession of a loaded .38 caliber pistol. According to the prosecution, the arresting officer observed Martini shopping for a holster in a martial arts and cutlery store. When Martini left the shop, the officer confronted him and found the gun.

When asked about the incident during his murder trial, Martini said he had found the gun in the trash and was on his way to turn it over to police. Martini’s mother bailed him out of jail, but the Martinis’ inexperience with the American judicial system left them thinking that the bail they had paid was a fine and the end of their trouble, Martini later testified. However, when Martini failed to appear for court, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

His second “bad act,” according to the prosecution, was entering the U.S. at Logan Airport in Boston on November 6, 1995 with a fake passport purchased for him by an uncle, Martini later said. He was detained and chose to return to Albania rather than face an immigration judge. Soon after, he returned to America legally after his mother’s asylum application had been granted, court records and Martini’s mother said.

While living in New York, Martini, like Radulovic, worked multiple jobs, first in restaurants, and then as a security guard and bouncer. His last jobs were as a security guard at the Diesel clothing store on Lexington Avenue across the street from Bloomingdale’s and as a bouncer at Vertigo, a midtown dance club. He later testified that he left his bouncer job early that night because he wasn’t feeling well. His cousin, Mandrin Vuthaj, picked him up and they headed downtown towards the Village.

On June 6, Radulovic worked with his mother doing travel agency business from 9 to 5. His father was in Germany on business for the agency. At 4:30, his mother later testified, Bojan took a load of mail to the post office, came home and changed, and then went to his second job as a parking attendant.

He returned home around 10 pm before taking the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan. Since he was leaving so late, he told his mother not to wait up for him. That was the last time Nebenka Radulovic said she saw her eldest son alive.

Radulovic met his friends Baek, Weisman, Michael DeStefano, Glenford “Junior” Burton, and Brian Phelan, and together they took the train to Penn Station. They were on the streets of New York by 11, and their first stop was a video arcade, Baek and DeStefano later testified. Then they went to Jekyll and Hyde, a horror-themed bar and restaurant, where they had “a couple of drinks,” according to Baek.

Then they took taxis to the East Village to go to Webster Hall, but the bouncer wouldn’t let them in. So they went to Nevada Smith, a bar they had “never” gone to before, Baek later said.

“We all walked in,” Baek testified when asked about Nevada Smith. “It was really kind of packed. We couldn’t get anywhere.”

Baek and Radulovic managed to get to the bar, where they ordered a round of Southern Comfort. After the shot, the group each got a beer as made their way through the crowd to the back room where music was playing.

That’s when Baek met Martini.

“[A]ll I remember is someone bumping me,” Baek later testified. “I looked up, it was some person. He was looking at me like a really hard look. I didn’t think anything of it. You bump into people all the time.”

Baek, who said he was five-foot-five, later described Martini as, “a mean looking guy, scary.” Martini, Baek estimated, was over six feet tall. DeStephano added that Martini had “[v]ery bad acne scars on his face.” Baek said that Martini was wearing a dark suit, but DeStephano said, “It wasn’t really a suit jacket, more like a casual jacket. Definitely neat casual.” Martini was wearing his security guard uniform.

Baek later agreed with Calvin Garber, Martini’s lawyer, that the bump between him and Martini was “one of the most significant incidents that ever happened in [his] life.”

Baek and DeStephano later testified that the group decided to leave shortly after arriving in the back room of Nevada Smith because “it wasn’t enjoyable being there,” Baek later said.

“There were just too many people,” Baek said. “[We] had drinks being spilled all over the place from other people. I don’t need to go to a bar for that.” Baek recalled only being in Nevada Smith for “10, 15 minutes.”

Martini testified that it was his cousin, Mandrin, not him who bumped into Baek. Martini thought the bump was “a way of saying hello to each other.”

“So I looked, I didn’t recognize the man,” Martini later testified. “So I kept going. We went outside.”

Outside Nevada Smith, Martini said he was surrounded by “seven or eight people.”

“One of them that pushed my cousin was like, why did you look at me like that inside there,” Martini said in court. “I said, I’m sorry, but I mistake you with somebody else. Then his friends were trying ... to embarrass me, telling him you are going to let him get away with this.”

“Bo was arguing with [Martini] in the beginning,” Baek later recounted for the court.

DeStephano saw Martini “exchanging words” with Radulovic. DeStephano remembered them saying, “I’m going to kick your ass, I’m going to kick your ass, back and forth.” He remembered them arguing in English, so did Baek.

Martini later testified that he was outside Nevada Smith smoking a cigarette when Radulovic “grabs my cigarette.”

“He tells me, ‘What are you now going to do, Pizza Face?’” Martini said. “I know they were drunk. I just stepped off. I know you are just out here for some trouble, find somebody else. And I left.”

“Let us get out of here,” Baek remembered saying that night, following the altercation with Martini. “There are a couple of more bars up Third Avenue. Let us find something else to do. That is when we started walking up Third Avenue.” They walked in the same direction as the defendant, but weren’t following them, Baek later testified.

When Baek and Radulovic crossed 12th Street, he saw Martini’s friends, “just standing there.” Martini, Baek recalled, “was in the pizzeria.”

“It’s a coincidence,” Baek later testified. “Like oh God.”

DeStephano, walking in the rear, remembered seeing Martini and his two friends walking towards Due Amici, the pizzeria, which is less than a half block from Nevada Smith. Baek and Radulovic weren’t far from Martini from DeStephano’s point of view, “Not far. Ten, 15 feet maybe, maybe 20 feet at most.” While DeStephano never lost sight of Martini, he didn’t pay much attention to him either because, “I thought it was over.”

“I noticed they were still ahead of us,” DeStephano recalled. “Those two friends were outside on the corner, and I noticed he went inside.” He also noticed Martini put his hand in his jacket.

Baek began arguing with Martini’s friends on the corner.

“We were arguing,” Baek later testified. “All of a sudden, boom, we start, boom, we start fighting... Me and these two guys... All of a sudden something from behind hit me. I don’t know what it was. It was a strong enough force that I went flying forward, head first, and hit the cement sidewalk where it meets the street... All I remember [is] hitting my head, boom. I was dazed. I was on the floor. I got up... I was bleeding from my head.”

He didn’t realize it then, but Baek had been stabbed in the back.

“At first your adrenaline is pumping,” Baek later testified. “I didn’t think anything. I thought someone pushed me from behind. That is all... I remember as soon as I got up I remember like to the left of me I remember Bo’s voice distinctively, ‘He’s got a blade.’”

Martini recounted the events in a dramatically different way. He was in Due Amici, which means “Two Friends” in Italian, a language Martini speaks, ordering a slice when his cousin yelled for him. When he stepped out of the pizzeria, he testified that Radulovic threatened him in Serbian and tried to steal a medallion Martini was wearing depicting an Albanian eagle. None of Radulovic’s friends remember a medallion.

“[T]hat I remember really good because it was in Serbian,” Martini later testified. “He said, ‘Give me your money,’ and he was grabbing my chain... He said, ‘I’m going to kill you like I killed your mothers and sisters in Kosovo.’”

Martini said that “seven or eight” people surrounded him, and “four or five” had knives, in what Assistant District Attorney Carla Freedman described in her summation as, “something out of West Side Story.”

Baek would later say no one in his party had a knife, “We are not people that carry weapons to have a good time. Definitely not.”

Martini said he saw Radulovic pull a knife. “All of a sudden I see some shiny object going in my back. It felt like burning... I lost it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I managed to take his knife and I was – just went wild on him... I was just trying to get him off, trying to get away.”

Martini then said the stab wound inflicted by Radulovic went in his back and came out his front.

“It went right through you?” Calvin Garber, Martini’s attorney asked.

“Yes,” Martini replied.

While Martini said he saw myriad knives that night, no one else saw any. DeStephano thought that Martini and Radulovic were wrestling, “grappling with each other.”

“I saw Bo, you know, trying to block punches,” DeStephano later testified. “I just saw him keep going like swinging on him.”

Martini and Radulovic continued to fight, spilling into Third Avenue. “There was a cab going by,” DeStephano later said, “and they even hit against the cab in the street.”

Yet it all happened so quickly that under cross-examination, DeStephano willingly admitted that he never saw a knife in Martini’s hand.

Radulovic was stabbed seven times, puncturing his heart and throat.

At some point, everyone involved decided to run, and Radulovic and his friends ran west on 12th Street. Martini and his friends ran north on Third Avenue.

“I started running up the block,” Baek remembered. “I saw everyone ahead of me. I was running. I saw Bo ahead of me. I saw Mike... Everyone is fine. Let’s get out of here. All I remember, boom, I pass out.”

As he was trying to get up, Baek later testified he discovered blood on his back. That was the first indication he had that something was wrong.

“The next thing I remember waking up,” Baek later testified. “I saw Bo running. I thought he was fine. Then I passed out again. When I came to again I saw the paramedics there.”

DeStephano turned around in time to see Baek fall. Then he saw one of Martini’s friends throw a garbage can on Baek when he was down. “I think it just grazed him,” he later said. Then he saw Martini straddle Baek and make two thrusting motions downward.

“I didn’t see a knife in his hand,” DeStephano later admitted in court. “I don’t know if he was punching him.” Baek was stabbed three times in the back.

Then DeStephano saw Radulovic, and thought he looked winded, out of breath.

“I see Bo like stagger really bad,” DeStephano later said. “He... fell down, hit his head on the light pole. Then after that he just stayed on the ground after that... [There was] a pool of blood coming out from his body... There [was] blood coming out of his mouth... I bent right over Bo, he was just looking right through me like I wasn’t there.”

This was around 1 a.m. As Bojan Radulovic was dying, his mother testified that she finally fell asleep.

Martini dropped the knife in a trash can a block north on Third Avenue before getting in a taxi with his cousin, Mandrin, he would later testify. In his testimony, Martini denied telling Mandrin he stabbed the “Asian guy and the big guy with the beard.” He denied saying, “I kicked their ass... I ate their throat.”

Nebenka Radulovic was lying in bed awake at 4 a.m. when police knocked on the door. They told her her son was dead. “I hardly waited for them to leave so I can cry and scream,” she later told the court. She called her husband in Germany, who promptly flew home, and she arranged for friends to drive her into the city, she said.

Though Martini contended in his trial that he was the victim of a crime at the hands of Radulovic, he admitted in testimony that he did not go to police or to a doctor for his wounds. Instead, he stuffed his wounds with toliet paper in a Chinese restaurant bathroom, then poured alcohol on them before searing them shut with matches, he would later testify. The next day, he went to work. David Charles, his boss, testified that he came in late and had scratches on his face.

The four uninjured friends visited Baek in the hospital two or three times, according to DeStephano. Baek was at Bellevue hospital for five days, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, he would later testify.

“The doctors told me I was very lucky,” he said.

Baek was in a significant amount of pain. “Every time I moved a little it hurt... I really wanted to go to Bo’s funeral. [But] they weren’t letting me out. I missed that.” After his discharge from the hospital, Baek had to teach himself to walk again. “I was in bed at least three to four months. I couldn’t really go out, face anything,” he later testified.

While Baek was incapacitated for months by his wounds, Martini was able to go to work the next day When his cousin told him the news said someone had died, Martini was able to quickly travel to New Jersey, Connecticut, and then to Providence where he boarded a plane to San Diego. From there he entered Mexico and boarded a flight home to Albania, according to the prosecution’s summation – with a knife wound that went all the way through him, according to his testimony.

Martini was smart to move quickly. Within eight hours of getting the case on June 7, Detective Peter Salerno was at the Martini home, looking for his suspect, according to Salerno and Martini’s mother. Thinking he might have escaped the country, Salerno notified Interpol, an international police agency, according to the District Attorney’s office.

Martini appeared on America’s Most Wanted on December 5, 1998. The program was unaware of his flight to Albania and still said his suspected whereabouts were the Bronx and Yonkers.

In late 2000, Martini was arrested for possession of marijuana and ammunition in Albania. Interpol notified Salerno and the NYPD. Paul D’Elimia, formerly of the Brooklyn DA’s office, facilitated extradition procedures in his capacity as the Legal Advisor from the U.S. Department of Justice stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Albania, according to the Manhattan DA’s office. Because of D’Emilia, Martini was the first Albanian extradited to America based on a 1933 treaty signed by Franklin Roosevelt.

Nebenka Radulovic knew the exact number of days between her son’s death and her testimony at the trial of his killer, “Actually, one thousand, five hundred and 74 days until today,” she told the court.

And though it pained her to talk about her lost son, she remembered his intelligence and character most. She made a point to tell the court, “He just got his last grades two days after he died and it was A’s.”


At 7:53 PM, Blogger Register the Cat said...

"Why are we living in New York? We're just getting poorer and we might get killed."

At 11:21 PM, Blogger stark pimp said...

Two words: Pulitzer

At 2:56 AM, Blogger Don't Blame Me--You Voted for Bush said...

Damn. This post is now 25% of the Internet.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger DJ said...

I was rapt. Well told. What's your connection to this story?

At 12:45 PM, Blogger stark pimp said...

jim's in Columbia Journalism School. that's an assignment. plus, now the albanians are out to get him. we have ninja bodyguards posted outside our apt 24-7.

At 4:52 AM, Blogger jaywise said...

This story really brought me back to that horrible night but it was very well told. I read this story because i never knew what that piece of garbage bernardo martinaj said at the trial after i testified i left the courtroom. all i cared about at that time was after almost 5 yrs of waiting for them to find him, was that he went to jail for a long time. I just wanted to let everyone who reads this know that martinaj was the only one with a knife me and my friends were out for my 21st birthday not out looking for trouble. as far as the whole b.s. about Bo speaking serbian to him and this thing being about where they were born its not true and obvoiously the jury knew that because he was convicted.The only problem was he didnt get life.I would like to talk to whoever wrote this story please contact me at THANKS Jay


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