Tina Karuzas, the Schenectady woman who stabbed her downstairs neighbor to death in a dispute over loud music, was convicted Thursday of first-degree manslaughter.
Karuzas, 28, was silent as the Schenectady County Court jury foreman read the verdict, but appeared emotional as she was led from the courtroom.
Tonya Daniels, mother of the victim Latoya Ebron, covered her face in anticipation of the verdict. She then sobbed quietly as the foreman read “guilty.”
“Oh my God, I can’t even explain it,” Daniels said later. “It was just like a big weight came off of my shoulders. Justice was done.”
The jury found that Karuzas intentionally stabbed the 26-year-old Ebron during a scuffle inside Karuzas’ 203 Elm St. apartment Dec. 26, 2011, a scuffle spawned by a party thrown by Karuzas with loud music. Ebron, a mother of two, was stabbed once and died hours later.
The fight came after an irate but unarmed Ebron entered Karuzas’ apartment and essentially started a fight, according to testimony. Karuzas testified in her own defense, calling the stabbing an accident, that she used the knife to scare Ebron away. The stabbing happened as Karuzas attempted to block an Ebron blow.
Attorney Mark Caruso also argued that Karuzas was defending her apartment from a kind of non-traditional burglary and therefore was justified in using deadly force. It was that claim that highlighted the issue of defense in one’s own home, something the prosecution contended is not as clear as some believe.
Regarding the burglary defense, Prosecutor William Sanderson said after the verdict that it simply didn’t apply in this case. If someone bursts into a home in a burglary, a resident has the right to defend himself up to deadly force, Sanderson said. But a key clause indicates “only if it’s a reasonable response to what you’re facing.”
In the Karuzas case, he said, it was a situation Karuzas created. Karuzas had a history with Ebron and knew Ebron would become irate at the loud music. She had become irate by a child running across the upstairs floor.
Though irate, Ebron knocked on the upstairs door. Then the argument ensued. Ebron was unarmed and alone, Sanderson said. Karuzas had a knife, in an apartment with 10 to 20 people at a party Karuzas threw. Karuzas also was bigger than Ebron.
“It’s not what justification was meant for,” Sanderson said. “It was not a reasonable response to what she was confronted with.”
And Karuzas’ claim that the stabbing was an accident did not make sense either, Sanderson said. Ebron’s wound, Sanderson said, could only have been caused by a direct thrust, not a blocking motion as Karuzas described.
“It had to have been an intentional stabbing,” Sanderson said.
“She wanted to have it both ways,” Sanderson added later. “She wanted to say it was justified, but she also wanted to say it was an accident.”
In the end, Sanderson said, it was neither. Sanderson prosecuted the case with Michael DeMatteo.
Karuzas’ attorney Caruso declined to comment afterward. Caruso, though, placed his objections on the record after the verdict, contending presiding Judge Polly Hoye should have allowed the jury to consider a second form of self-defense, one based on responding to deadly physical force.
Sanderson noted later that no one, including Karuzas, saw Ebron with a weapon, meaning that theory of self-defense just didn’t apply.
Karuzas faces up to 25 years in state prison at her Jan. 17 sentencing. She could, however, get as little as five.
Sanderson said he had not decided yet what to ask for.
“But,” Sanderson said, “someone’s dead and dead because [Karuzas] intentionally stabbed her when she didn’t have the justification to do so, so it’s certainly going to be more than the minimum.”
Daniels said later that she is happy with the verdict and glad it is now over. She wasn’t sure until the verdict was read how exactly it would turn out.
What is now almost over for Daniels, with Karuzas’ sentencing still to come, is about the worst 21⁄2 years a mother could go through.
It started in June 2010 when Daniels’ two sons, Shaune Daniels, 18, and Nasjarah Pulliam, just 11, were shot while walking on Schenectady Street. Two people were charged in the shooting of her sons. One pleaded guilty. The other went to trial, but with an acquittal.
Shaune, the target of the shooting, was shot in the chest, with a bullet lodging in his lung. He survived. Daniels’ younger brother, 11-year-old Nasjarah Pulliam, suffered the worst of it, though. Nasjarah nearly died. Hit in the head, the bullet lodged in his brain.
Nasjarah has since made a remarkable recovery. The mother even counted him Thursday as back to his old self, doing well in school and even going out for basketball.
Daniels called Ebron her best friend. She was Daniels’ first-born daughter.
“Going through everything that’s happened with the boys, the situation with my daughter,” the mother said, “it’s been hard. I can’t even tell you how I get up out of bed in the morning.”
Thursday’s verdict, though, Daniels said, “was justice for my daughter.”