KEW GARDENS, Queens — The former assistant basketball coach at Wake Forest University broke down in tears on the witness stand Tuesday as he testified in his own defense about one punch on a Queens street that left a Florida man dead in August 2018.
“I’ve never been arrested prior to this case,” Jamill Jones told the jury. “I’ve never had a drink in my life.”
Jones, who stands 6 foot 5 inches tall, said he raced from his then - fiancee’s white BMW in the early hours of Aug. 5, 2018 because Sandor Szabo—a stranger—got aggressive on 29th Street in Long Island City.
Jones denied making a comment to Szabo, as Jones drove past the intoxicated man. Szabo, a 35-year old digital marketing executive, had just left his sister’s wedding.
Szabo was apparently looking for an Uber to get back to his hotel. At one point, the frustrated Szabo is seen on surveillance throwing his jacket on the ground and trying to pull a mailbox out of its sidewalk foundation.
Shortly after, Jones is seen driving by in the BMW.
The prosecutor took Jones through the surveillance footage frame by frame, showing how Szabo seemed to be trying to flag Jones for a ride, perhaps mistaking the coach for an Uber driver.
Jones said he never noticed Szabo, until he backed up the BMW to take a corner parking spot, near the Courtyard Marriott Hotel where he was staying.
“There was a gentleman on the corner. He started to walk on the street. I lost sight of him,” Jones testified.
There’s about 10 seconds on the surveillance camera where the car’s image is obscured by bright lights from the brakes being applied.
“The next thing you heard was a loud, ‘boom!’ and the rear windshield started to fall in,” Jones told the jury, referring to his fiancee’s BMW.
Jones said the woman got scared and put her head in her lap crying, while the man outside came on the passenger side and let out a large chuckle like ‘Hee Haw!’”
On direct examination, Jones had admitted chasing Szabo and punching him in the face near the opposite corner of the street, even as Szabo appeared to be backing up.
Jones said Szabo had his fists clenched and was raising his left hand.
“When I see the girl and her face was in her lap and I see him on the passenger side, I said ‘I’m going to put myself between him and whatever comes that way,” Jones testified earlier.
PIX11 learned a team of lawyers working for Szabo’s family had been trying to find the former fiancée, before and during the trial, with no luck.
The family claimed Jones showed up at a New York police precinct four days after the incident, carrying a photo of a white BMW with a bashed, rear window. They weren’t convinced the window got smashed in Queens.
Jones admitted seeing Szabo hit the sidewalk before he walked away.
Jones and his fiancée left the scene, circled around the block and then saw other people showing up at the corner. Jones said he assumed Szabo was alright—as the Florida man was propped against a vehicle—and then consulted a police officer relative the next day, before driving back to North Carolina.
But Szabo was not OK.
He'd suffered a traumatic brain injury and was brain dead. His family removed him from life support four days later, after doctors harvested his organs to help needy recipients.
The New Jersey man who received Szabo’s heart came to court Tuesday to show support for Szabo’s mother, Donna Kent.
Kent told PIX11 she couldn’t comment during the trial, because there’s been a gag order imposed.
The mother has been fighting current policy in New York City that treats one-punch deaths as third degree assaults, a misdemeanor crime.
A conviction would carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison.
Szabo’s mother wants these kinds of deaths treated as homicides.
Jones is hoping the jury will look at his background when considering the case.
He testified he worked as a financial analyst with the Department of Homeland Security before starting a coaching career in college basketball.
Jones testified he had mentored “hundreds” of young people.