Ronald Giddens had been out of jail for less than seven months when he was detained on a Brooklyn street on December 2, 2013. He was carrying a revolver. His pants and sneakers were stained with blood.
It was not hard for the police to figure out what had happened. The day before, at an apartment at 150 Beach 115th Street in Rockaway Park, Queens, Giddens, then 49, had called Patricia Tony, asking her to call an ambulance because her friend Tony Walker, 47, was badly injured. When the ambulance arrived, emergency service workers found Walker on the floor, bleeding and unconscious. He was declared brain dead at Jamaica Hospital the same day. Giddens had left before the ambulance got there.
The blood on Giddens’ clothing was found to be Walker’s on December 5 via DNA analysis performed by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, but Giddens did not wait that long to confess that he was responsible. “I had a fight with him,” he told the police on December 2. “When I left, he was on the floor bleeding.” Walker died from a blunt force to the head, which caused not only the bleeding, but also deadly brain injury, according to the court testimony of Sean Kelley, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy.
“Where I grew up, you have to fight to wear your own sneakers,” said Rodney Giddens, who is tall and intimidating, much like his brother Ronald, the oldest child in their family. According to Michael D. Horn, Ronald Giddens’ defense attorney, the older brother is “probably six foot three, 200 pounds, very muscular” and was a “boxing champion.”
Rodney Giddens was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, two years after Ronald Giddens was born in 1964. It was not a good neighborhood back then. “We grew up in an area where you always had to fight,” Rodney Giddens said. “Guys just take clothes off your back.”
Drug use was also common. “My mother was a crack head, and my father was a dope fiend,” Rodney Giddens said. “All the buildings were abandoned. Everybody’s parents were smoking crack those days.”
That was in the 1980s. Before that, according to Rodney Giddens, it was even worse. The brothers lost their father, Ronald Giddens Sr., to heroin overdose when Ronald Giddens was 7. “I think that messed up my brother mentally, because we were real close to our father,” said Rodney Giddens.
After their father’s death, Ronald began to support the family, while Rodney was forced to stay at home to look after their younger brother, Robert, who was intellectually disabled. As a result, Rodney was not aware of Giddens’ whereabouts. “I don’t know what my brother was doing. Only thing I know: he was coming home with money, he was coming home with food for us to eat.”
But the streets did not leave Ronald Giddens unharmed. According to a memorandum filed by the Osborne Association’s Court Advocacy Services, he began using marijuana at 13 and was jailed for the first time after pleading guilty to robbery at 15. It was the first of several stints in prison, which combined, added up to more than half of his life.
Rodney Giddens said prison broke his brother. “He was more quiet than he was growing up,” he said describing Ronald Giddens’ behavior when he moved in with Rodney in Far Rockaway after being paroled in 2007 on a manslaughter charge. “It was like he clammed up. He didn’t really watch TV. He didn’t really listen to music. Like he’s stuck in his own little world. . . . He doesn’t know how to be free.”
Ronald Giddens had a hard time making friends in Far Rockaway, his brother said. “He tried to connect back with people from the old neighborhood,” he said. “I used to tell him, ‘yo why do you keep going back to the same place where you keep getting locked up?’ … I guess he’s like a pitbull. Once you get hooked on something, you never get off, you never know how to do something different.”
Ronald Giddens was like that about fighting. “I believe he was still stuck in the 1980s, 1990s,” said his brother. “I used to warn him and tell him you can’t fight no more, it’s just not that time anymore. . . . But he still thought he could go out and fight.”
Ronald Giddens was a little childish, his brother continued. “He always joked around,” he said. “He didn’t take everything serious. The only thing he took serious is if you threatened him. If you threaten to put your hands on him he’s gonna put his on you first.”
And on Nov. 30, 2013, someone threatened him.
The revolver that the police found on Ronald Giddens was not his own. The gun belonged to Tony Walker, who had threatened him with it, according to Giddens’ testimony and statements to the police.
It began with Patricia Tony, a woman Giddens met at a bus stop. According to Giddens, the two were in a romantic relationship. “That was my girl,” he said in a statement to the police. “Me and Pat have been talking for one month but haven’t seen her for about two weeks. On Sunday I went to Pat’s house and there was a man with her. I told the guy ‘Yo don’t be here when I get back.’ ”
That man was Walker, and he showed up unexpectedly when Giddens and Tony got together later on Nov. 30 to sort things out. “We met up and he came out of no where,” Giddens said in a police statement. “He got in my face saying that she was with him. I got offended because, how is it he is gonna tell her who she is with. He moved his jacket over and showed me a gun.”
Whether Tony was actually dating Giddens was a subject of dispute. Defense lawyer Horn said she testified that “she hated Ronald. . . . She said they were friends, but never intimate.”
Tony no longer lives at 150 Beach 115th Street and could not be located to comment for this story. Other residents of the building have only vague memories of the murder case.“My boyfriend saw him, and his head was all swollen,” said Cori Capaldo, referring to Walker. Another woman, who would not not give her name, mentioned a different incident where a man was beaten over the head with a cane because of gang activity. Another woman noted that drugs and prostitution plague the building. “Smell that? That’s drugs,” she said as a man could be heard screaming a few doors away.
Whatever Tony’s relationship was with Giddens, it was not in dispute that he felt threatened by Walker. “He can’t disrespect me,” he said in a statement to the police. “How are you going to show another guy a gun on the street like that.” “It was self-defense. I want you to take me to court.” He said in a separate statement.
“You have to understand my father was institutionalized.” Stephon Giddens, 25, repeated this point several times when he was talking about his father, Ronald Giddens. He was referring to the many years his father had spent in prison.
During a stint when Giddens was out of jail from 1987 to 1993, he started a family. According to the Osborne Association memo, he married a woman named Nashenia Butcher in 1991, ten days before Stephon’s birth. Stephon does not remember meeting his father until he was 9 or 10 years old, when he visited him at Upstate Correctional Facility with his grandmother and uncle Rodney. “We walked around the yards of the prison, and he was holding us, telling us he loves us,” Stephon Giddens said. “It was really special, man. I remember that this day.”
“My father was a family man,” Giddens added. “He always gave me life lessons about how to move as a man and how to move as a young, black man. He would give me lessons like ‘hey son, you need to get a car because if you have a car, you can move around, you can have a job, and you can do a lot of things.’ ”
Stephon Giddens recalled the biggest life lesson Giddens had given him. “On the day he was out of jail, he told me let’s go to the store to get you some books,” he said. “We were at the store, he was talking to this girl, and she became the mother of my first son. My first son!”
That was in 2007, and Ronald Giddens had just been paroled on the manslaughter case. “I don’t know much, but basically somebody set him up,” Stephon Giddens said about the case.
Giddens violated his parole in 2010 and was imprisoned again until 2013 for what his son described as some “stupid things.” Stephon Giddens picked him up from prison after he was released. “He played with my oldest son the whole night,” he said. “I heard him running around and laughing.”
But for the entire night, Giddens also left the lights on and was on edge. His son remembered a similar incident in 2007, also on the night of his release from prison. “He was watching TV, and I was walking past him, behind him,” he said. “He pushed his chair all the way back against the wall, so that I could walk in front of him.”
“My dad was a great man, but he was institutionalized,” Stephon Giddens continued. “I feel sorry about the guy killed, but he was just defending himself. What is it like to go to a police station and say that somebody tries to kill you when you are a convicted murderer? Come on man.”
Going to the police did come up in the trial. “Did you call 911 and say, hey, that guy just threatened me with a gun?” The assistant district attorney, Rachel Buchter, asked Giddens during cross-examination.
“No” was the answer.
Instead, Giddens went home, worked out to relieve tension, and then went back to Tony’s apartment the next day, he said. He saw Walker’s shoes from under the door. When Walker left, he figured out which apartment he lived in, which happened to be in the same building, by listening to his footsteps. He followed the sound downstairs.
“I waited until he came out of the apartment and chin checked him once,” Giddens said in a videotaped police statement. “I didn’t give him a chance to say anything, I just hit him in the face once, and he fell back onto his side. I went into the apartment looking for the gun. I found the gun under the mattress, took it with me. I also took his phone. I called my ex from his phone and told her to call an ambulance because we don’t want him dying.”
The autopsy concluded that the extensive injury to Walker’s head was unlikely to be caused by a single punch, and in court Giddens testified that he hit Walker twice in a “one-two” combination. He also testified that Walker reached for his waistband before he punched him, a claim that he had not made in his police statements.
At Giddens’ trial in Queens Supreme Court, Buchter challenged him on the discrepancies and also brought up Giddens’ past charges of robbery and manslaughter. Horn said that Giddens had planned to testify that he took the gun to prevent Walker from using it on him and that he took the phone to summon aid for Walker. But Giddens grew agitated under Buchter’s scrutiny of his testimony and did not say saying everything as planned. He was found guilty of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter and four lesser charges and on May 13, 2015 was sentenced by Judge Kenneth C. Holder to 36 years to life in prison.
In a letter, Giddens said he intends to appeal the conviction and that he is currently waiting to be appointed an appeals lawyer.
The sentence came as devastating news to Rodney and Stephon Giddens. Prison has torn the family apart,” said Rodney Giddens. “He was a good kid. He was a good man. He would take the jacket off his back to help someone. . . . I would bail him out if I had the money, but I don’t, and there isn’t a bail anyway.”
As for Stephon Giddens, his voice trembled as he said: “My dad was a great, great man. I pray to God man, that one day he will come home once more.”