Saturday, May 13, 2017

A00725 - Dennis Edwards, Judge Who Presided Over Trial of Lennon's Killer

Dennis Edwards Jr., the judge who presided over the trial of Mark David ChapmanJohn Lennon’s killer, in 1981, died on April 13 at his home in Manhattan. He was 95.
The death was confirmed by his granddaughter, Ayanna Behin.
Mr. Edwards had served for more than 15 years as a law secretary to the New York Supreme Court before Mayor Robert F. Wagner appointed him a judge on the criminal court in 1965. He was reappointed by Mayors John V. Lindsay in 1972 and Edward I. Koch in 1981.
At the criminal court, which handles arraignments and misdemeanor crimes, he set bail, heard testimony and pronounced sentences (or dismissed charges) for a long procession of Vietnam War protesters, the restaurateur Toots Shor (accused of assaulting an unruly customer in 1967) and a teenage robbery suspect who charged the bench and hit Judge Edwards over the head with his shoe.
His most famous case came as an acting Supreme Court justice in 1981, when Mr. Chapman, against the advice of his lawyer, pleaded guilty to fatally shooting Lennon outside his apartment building, the Dakota, in Manhattan in December 1980. The charge was second-degree murder.
On accepting the plea, Judge Edwards told Mr. Chapman that he would hand down a sentence no longer than 20 years to life, calling the maximum sentence of 25 years to life “inappropriate” because the defendant had voluntarily entered a guilty plea.
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In a highly unusual move, Judge Edwards closed the proceedings to the public and press. A court transcript showed that he had expressed worries that if he chose not to accept the plea deal, his decision, once publicized, might prejudice Mr. Chapman’s trial.
Photo
Dennis Edwards Jr., left, being sworn in as a judge.
At sentencing, Judge Edwards recommended that Mr. Chapman receive psychiatric treatment during his confinement. In 1984, a state appeals court upheld his decision to accept Mr. Chapman’s guilty plea. Mr. Chapman’s lawyer had asked that it be voided on the grounds that his client was mentally incompetent at the time.
Mr. Chapman is still serving his sentence at Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, N.Y. He was denied parole for the ninth time in August 2016.
Dennis Edwards Jr. was born on Aug. 19, 1921, in Harlem, to immigrants from Barbados. His father ran a real estate company, and his mother, the former Gladys Wilson, was a homemaker.
After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in government in 1941 from Washington Square College, as the Manhattan undergraduate school of New York University was then known.
He had not thought of becoming a lawyer, but to prepare himself for a political science course he joined his local Democratic Party organization, whose members urged him to study law.
He was admitted to Harvard Law School and, after graduating in 1944, took a job in the legal department of the Service Transportation Corporation. In 1948 he was appointed law secretary to the State Supreme Court, where he served under Justices Benjamin F. Schreiber and Henry Clay Greenberg.
In 1983 Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appointed him to the State Court of Claims, where he served until his retirement in 1989.
His wife, the former Dorothy Fairclough, died last year. In addition to his granddaughter, he is survived by two daughters, Lynne Edwards Engelskirchen and Denise Edwards Young; two other grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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