A case being heard in New York’s highest court today will decide whether a member of the Bronx-based St. James Boys street gang can be tried as a terrorist for his role in a 2002 fight that resulted in the death of a 10-year-old girl. Prosecutors will argue that Edgar Morales sought to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population” during the incident, which took place at a church and left a bystander paralyzed. “Violent crime committed by a street gang constitutes a crime of terrorism… when it is motivated solely by the intent to establish a gang’s ‘street credentials’ as the toughest Mexican gang in the Bronx,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Morales was convicted for manslaughter, attempted murder, weapon possession and conspiracy in 2007 under New York’s anti-terrorism statute, a law that was passed six days after the 9/11 attacks and which increased Morales’s sentence from a maximum of 25 years to 40 to life. In an appeal, a midlevel court ruled that Morales does not constitute a terrorist under the statute, as he attempted to intimidate “a narrowly defined group of particular individuals whom the criminal actor happens to regard as adversaries,” and not the general population.

This is the first case of its kind in New York, in which a member of a gang member is tried as a terrorist. A ruling is expected in November.

(Photo: Bancha Srikacha/Flickr)