Gay Man’s Attacker Back in Jail

A man, now 21, who received 45 days in jail and three years on probation for three 2009 assaults on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, including one originally charged as an anti-gay hate crime, got a year in jail after he violated his probation.

“The defendant will be sentenced to a one-year definite sentence,” said Judge Ronald A. Zweibel at an April 8 hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court after Driton Nicaj pleaded guilty to the violation.

In June of 2009, Nicaj knocked Joseph Holladay, a gay man visiting from Boston, unconscious. Holladay had a wound on his head that required stitches. The day after attacking Holladay, Nicaj assaulted two other men. One man had a broken nose and three skull fractures, requiring six hours of surgery to insert a metal plate in his head. The second man required stitches to close a wound on his lip. Press reports at the time said the other two men were also gay.

Violating probation, Driton Nicaj, who bashed Joseph Holladay, two others, gets one year

At his arraignment, Nicaj faced multiple felony charges including first-degree robbery, which has a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison. The Manhattan district attorney got an indictment on six third-degree assault counts, with two charged as hate crimes in the Holladay assault. Third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, has a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

Nicaj gave three statements to police, two oral and one written. He gave a videotaped statement to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

“The defendant has made admissions to being present on the June 27, 2009 assault and committing the assaults on June 28, 2009 within approximately a half hour of each other,” an assistant district attorney wrote in a court filing at that time.

Zweibel dismissed the hate crime elements, saying that Nicaj’s use of the word “faggot” during the Holladay assault was “just typical trash-talking.”

In a deal with the district attorney’s office, then headed by Robert Morgenthau, Nicaj pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor assault charges and, with credit for time served and good behavior, spent roughly 20 to 25 days in jail in 2010.

On November 16 of last year, he was arrested and charged with third-degree criminal trespass and marijuana possession, which are violations of his probation. Nicaj also missed required appointments with two non-profit agencies that work with the city’s Department of Probation, and he failed one drug test.

On March 10, Zweibel remanded Nicaj until the April 8 hearing. The time Nicaj served last year and during his remand will be applied to the one-year sentence. Any time he may get for the trespass and marijuana possession charges will be served concurrently with the one-year sentence.

Most offenders who get a year in city jail time serve eight months, so factoring in time served, Nicaj could be facing incarceration of roughly six more months. Once he has completed his jail time, Nicaj will face no further probationary period.

Nicaj was in court on April 8 for a hearing to determine what sentence, if any, Zweibel would impose for the probation violation, but it was apparent from pre-hearing conversations held at the bench and easily heard in the courtroom that the judge planned to give him a year. At that point, after talking with his attorney, Edward Donlon, Nicaj pleaded guilty.