Man gets 240 years in East Village hostage incident
BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL | The case of a crime that shocked the East Village more than 10 years ago concluded last Friday in Manhattan Supreme Court when Steven Johnson was sentenced to 240 years in prison for taking hostages at gunpoint in Bar Veloce on Second Ave.
Johnson had shot three people and doused 14 others with kerosene, threatening to set them on fire before he was overpowered by two of the bar’s patrons.
“I wanted to kill as many people as I could,” Johnson told police after his arrest.
Around 2 a.m. on June 16, 2002, Johnson confronted two couples near the bar. He demanded one man’s wallet, then shot a man, Jonah Brander of New Jersey. As Brander staggered into the bar, between 11th and 12th Sts., Johnson followed, first shooting into the air before shooting Brander a second time.
“White people are going to burn tonight,” Johnson shouted as pandemonium erupted. Many fled the bar. Others running into a back room found themselves trapped. Johnson ordered a woman to bind everyone’s hands with plastic ties. Then he poured kerosene on the terrified patrons.
A restaurant owner from next door heard the ruckus and looked inside the door. Johnson shot the man in the wrist.
As Johnson flicked a lighter, threatening to set the patrons on fire, two of the place’s waitresses, Ann-Margret Gidley, 23, and Anne Hubbard, 34, both from Manhattan, tackled him.
Police arrived and an officer from the Emergency Services Unit shot at Johnson, grazing him in the head, before Johnson was apprehended.
Testifying at the trial last December, Gidley cried as she recounted the horror of that night.
Prosecutors played a tape of a 911 call from the bar in which Johnson can be heard screaming, “I will start burning motherf—–s, do you hear?”
“That’s when I got really scared,” Gidley recounted, because Johnson told police outside the bar, “Bring us 20 body bags ’cause that’s the only way we’re coming out.”
As Gidley crouched by a sink in the kitchen, she saw Johnson momentarily pocket his gun.
“I launched myself off the sink as hard as I could and I hit him a couple of times,” she recounted.
As Gidley and Hubbard fought Johnson, he fired once, hitting Hubbard in the leg.
Johnson’s arsenal that night included three guns, more than 100 rounds of ammunition, a samurai sword, a bottle of flammable liquid and two barbeque lighters.
In court last Friday, Johnson launched into a profanity-laced rant, screaming, “F— you,” and “Suck my d—” at Judge Daniel FitzGerald as the judge imposed the sentence of 240 years.
Johnson had used an insanity defense at two previous trials, both of which ended in mistrials. Last month a jury rejected the same defense, finding him guilty on nine charges, including two counts of attempted murder and two counts of kidnapping.
“The 15 victims in this case have had to endure years of psychological terror,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said in a statement after the sentencing, praising the victims’ years of perseverance through the three trials.
Before his rampage, Johnson was a barber. His most famous client, Jay-Z, once had Johnson play a drug dealer in a music video, “Friend or Foe.”
Johnson, who had been diagnosed with AIDS and whose wife had died from the disease three months before his rampage, had a record of arrests for drugs and gun possession. After his arrest, police found a suicide note in his Brooklyn apartment.