WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A former Cape Vincent Correctional Facility inmate who was accused of murdering a fellow prisoner has been found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
A judge, and not a jury, heard the case of 27 year old Bernard Szurant in Jefferson County Court.
The judge rendered his verdict Wednesday. He found Szurant guilty of first-degree manslaughter, two counts of second-degree assault, and tampering with physical evidence
On June 18, 2018, Szurant was accused of murdering fellow inmate Mark McCray and assaulting two corrections officers.
According to a grand jury indictment, Szurant caused severe damage to McCray's brain and throat by hitting, kicking and strangling him. McCray died from his injuries on July 9.
Szurant was originally charged with second-degree murder, first-degree assault, first-degree strangulation, tampering with physical evidence, and four counts of second-degree assault.
Two of the second-degree assault charges, which were later dropped, were in connection with injuries he allegedly caused to two corrections officers.
Both corrections officers, James Alberry and Jason Loftus, required medical treatment. Alberry's left hand was scratched and his face bruised. Loftus was scratched in his left arm and leg and his left knee was bruised.
Szurant was also accused of hiding clothing, gloves, and shoes he thought would be used as evidence against him.
During closing arguments Wednesday morning, the prosecution said Szurant went into the shower area on June 18, 2018 and intended to strangle McCray to death. They said Szurant wrapped a pair of long johns around McCray’s neck, choked him, repeatedly punched and kicked him while he was lying on the shower floor and then stomped on his throat.
Corrections officers had earlier testified they found McCray lying in a pool of blood, noticed the long johns tied around his neck, and saw he was barely breathing and his eyes were swollen shut.
The defense said during its closing argument that Szurant didn’t want to kill McCray. They said Szurant was being bullied and wanted it to stop. They said Szurant wanted to seriously hurt, but not kill McCray. They said the long johns were used as a take-down tool, not a weapon.
Meanwhile, the prosecution said there was no evidence in the case to support that Szurant was being bullied. The defense said the altercation was the result of stolen property.
Szurant will be sentenced on December 18.
The state's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision website showed he was originally in prison for a second-degree attempted assault conviction in Kings County.
He was serving up to three years in prison for that crime, which made headlines in New York City in 2017.
According to the Daily News, Szurant was arrested on assault and other charges for unleashing "a ferocious attack on an interracial couple, dropping the N-word and threatening a lynching before viciously beating the twosome."
The Daily News quoted one of the victims as saying, "It's only a matter of time before he does something to really hurt somebody.
McCray, the inmate who was killed in the Cape Vincent prison, was black, according to the DOCCS website.
The Daily News also said records showed Szurant has an extensive criminal history with 23 arrests, including robbery.
The article said in October 2015, Szurant was arrested for choking his sister in a dispute over money, according to court documents.
According to DOCCS, Szurant was in the Cape Vincent prison between March 30 and July 8.