Todd Piro reports on newly revealed video in controversial case
NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!
Soft-on-crime District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s decision to charge a convenience store worker with murder for stabbing an ex-convict in self-defense is “inexplicable” and “shocking,” experts told Fox News Digital.
Jose Alba, 61, was arrested on a second-degree murder rap and initially held on $500,000 cash bail for the July 1 slaying of ex-convict Austin Simon, 35, who had attacked him.
The bail was reduced Thursday to a $50,000 bond, which his family has since posted, after he languished for nearly a week at notorious Rikers Island.
“It’s shocking, shocking, inexplicable, that they charged him,” said Daniel Bibb, who prosecuted murder cases for nearly three decades under late Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau.
“They’re crazy. It’s clear from the video that he’s acting in self-defense. It’s clear from all the evidence that they have thus far,” railed Bibb, who now works as a criminal defense lawyer.
At the time of Simon’s killing, he was on probation for assault and already had at least 27 arrests under his belt, according to police sources.
A photo combination of Austin Simon’s mugshot and the interior of the Bluemoon convenience store where he was stabbed to death after attacking clerk Jose Alba July 1. (Google)
The shocking handling of the case has prompted local New York City Council members from both sides of the aisle to demand that the embattled Manhattan DA dismiss the charge. Prominent criminal defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman has offer to represent Alba for free.
United Bodegas of America has also rallied behind Alba, with the association’s president Radhames Rodriguez scheduled to meet with Bragg Tuesday to discuss the case.
The alleged murder
The deadly confrontation began at about 11 p.m. in Harlem on a Friday night when Simon’s girlfriend tried to buy a bag of potato chips for her daughter — but her electronic benefits card was declined.
A screenshot from surveillance footage obtained by the NYPost showing the moment Austin Simon, 35, confronts Jose Alba, 61, in a July 1 confrontation that quickly turned deadly. (New York Post)
The woman and Alba argued before the clerk allegedly reached over and snatched the chips from her 10-year-old daughter, according to the criminal complaint.
“I’m going to bring my n— down here and he gonna f—k you up,” the irate mom can be heard barking at the clerk in surveillance video obtained by the New York Post. “My n— is going to come down here right now and f—k you up!”
Minutes later, the woman returned to the store with Simon, who made a beeline for the clerk.
A screenshot of surveillance footage obtained by the New York Post showing Jose Alba landing in a chair after Austin Simon shoved him. (New York Post)
“Papa, I don’t want a problem, papa,” the clerk told Simon, who stormed into the cashier’s cubicle and violently shoved the older man into a chair, upsetting a row of shelves behind him, according to an earlier video obtained by the New York Post.
The two tussled and Alba grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Simon in the neck and chest at least five times.
A screenshot from surveillance footage obtained by the New York Post, showing Jose Alba, 61, and Austin Simon tussling moments before Alba used a kitchen knife to stab him in the chest and neck. (New York Post)
A third video obtained by the New York Post, which does not include audio, shows the moment Simon’s girlfriend pulled a knife from her purse and stabbed Alba in the arm.
She initially told detectives that she didn’t stab anyone, which was later contradicted by the video, according to a police report obtained by Fox News Digital.
The prosecution’s reasoning for the charge
The prosecutor assigned to the case, Jennifer Sigall, told investigators that the girlfriend was “justified in stabbing Mr. Alba, using force to stop his assault on the victim,” the report says.
But Bibb disagreed and believes Simon’s girlfriend should have been charged with assault.
“Mr. Alba should have been released from the precinct, and she [Simon’s girlfriend] should have been charged,” Bibb said. “That’s what I would have done.”
Criminal defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman, who has represented a slew of high-profile defendants, including Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, echoed Bibb’s position.
A screenshot of surveillance footage obtained by the New York Post that shows Austin Simon’s girlfriend allegedly stab bodega clerk Jose Alba. The woman attacked Alba to try to stop him from stabbing her boyfriend. (New York Post)
“She’s the one who started all of this,” Lichtman told Fox News Digital. “She put him [Alba] in a situation where he felt he needed to use deadly force.”
Lichtman explained the reasoning behind the second-degree murder charge against Alba, which carries a minimum sentence of 15 years to life — although he strongly disagreed with it.
Under New York law, Alba was only justified in using deadly force if he believed he was about to be the recipient of deadly force, Lichtman said. Prosecutors decided that the use of a knife was not a proportional response to a beating.
“This is insane,” Lichtman added. “Does Alvin Bragg want a city where you’re supposed to get pummeled half to death before you can defend yourself? We’re frankly sick and tired of being abused by a bunch of violent criminals.”
Lichtman has offered to defend Alba for free.
What is a New York City bodega
Rodriguez, the president of the United Bodegas of America, told Fox News Digital that bodega workers have been the victims of the city’s soaring crime rate over the last two years.
There are about 20,000 bodegas scattered throughout New York City mostly concentrated in lower income neighborhoods.
They offer deli sandwiches, single cigarettes known as “loosies,” and essential household supplies.
Blue Moon convenience store where clerk Jose Alba stabbed Austin Simon to death July 1 allegedly in self-defense. (Google)
“The bodega is like a family,” Rodriguez said. “We know our customers, we know their kids. We know what they take in their coffee because these are people we see every day.”
Since the NYPD’s budget was slashed and police stopped arresting people who commit low level crimes, bodega workers feel increasingly unsafe, he added.
“The police won’t respond anymore if someone steals something,” he told Fox News Digital. “But the big problems come after the small problems are ignored.”
Bail initially set at $500,000
Manhattan-prosecutor-turned-defense-lawyer Mark Bederow called the handling of the case “botched” from the outset.
The setting of $500,000 cash bail for a man with no criminal history who was not the aggressor is outrageous, he said.
A screenshot taking from Fox News of Jose Alba after he was charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of Austin Simon. (Fox News)
Bederow noted that Bragg’s office has repeatedly come under fire for setting no or low bail on violent criminals.
“It’s a complete 180 from their typical bail policies,” said Bederow, who worked as a prosecutor under Morgenthau. “It leaves the public amid an awful crime spree shaking their heads and wondering what’s going on.”
Simon’s conduct could also be considered burglary, Bederow added. Simon entered a closed part of the bodega to commit an assault on Alba, who under the law had a right to terminate a burglary, the lawyer argued.
“Bragg has misread the room,” Bederow said. “There isn’t a Manhattan juror who would vote to convict a hardworking man who acted in self-defense.”
Emma Colton and Haley Chi-Sing contributed to this report
Rebecca Rosenberg is a veteran journalist and book author with a focus on crime and criminal justice. Email tips to email@example.com and @ReRosenberg.