The Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to press murder charges against the worker who allegedly stabbed a customer to death in a Harlem fish market Tuesday after he and his fellow employees came under attack.
Junior Aquino Hernandez, 34, was arraigned Thursday for first-degree assault stemming from a brutal fight that unfolded between Hernandez and two customers. The customers were brothers, with Malik Burrell, 25, fatally stabbed, and his brother Robert “Bobby” Burrell, 29, critically injured.
Prosecutors provided details of the sordid incident in court, stating that the ugly incident began at around 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 21, when Robert Burrell attempted to steal shrimp from the store. The theft ultimately led to a massive brawl involving three workers– including Hernandez– and the brothers.
Hernandez, of the Bronx, said he regretted the incident when he was being escorted by the NYPD from the 30th Precinct to central booking on Wednesday. He told reporters: “It was an accident. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt them.”
According to court documents, an unnamed worker tried to stop Burrell from leaving the store with the shrimp, resulting in a struggle. Burrell dropped the shrimp and punched the worker in the face, with the attack spilling outside.
Burrell, according to prosecutors, then left the location and about four minutes later came back to the fish store, located at 94 Saint Nicholas Place, with his brother Malik Burrell. When they entered the store, the employees were behind the counter in area for employees only.
The brothers, prosecutors say, then proceeded to go behind the counter before attacking the employee who was involved in the initial struggle. Malik Burrell punched the employee repeatedly in the face and head. At this point, Hernandez is said to have tried to separate the two.
While this occurred, Robert Burrell picked up a chair and threw it against the third employee, a cook who was holding a knife. The employee, according to prosecutors, then picked up a chair and held it to keep Robert Burrell away.
Hernandez was unable to break up the initial fight and then grabbed a knife. Malik Burrell, according to court documents, was still punching the employee in the face and head—at which point Hernandez stabbed him twice in the torso, which ultimately killed him.
All five individuals continued to struggle, as the employees pushed the brothers toward the exit. Hernandez and the cook were still holding knives. The brothers at no time had weapons.
While at the door, Hernandez, prosecutors said, stabbed Robert Burrell three times while he was holding his injured brother. Robert Burrell suffered stab wounds to the abdomen, leading to the collapse of his lung.
Malik Burrell died in a local hospital, while Robert Burrell remains in critical condition, according to police. Meanwhile, the employee who was repeatedly punched in the face and head was taken to an area hospital where he required staples to his scalp. He was also treated for a broken tooth.
Mireille Dee, the assistant district attorney, said the assault charges pertain to the stabbing of Robert Burrell but her office has not come to a conclusion as to how they plan to prosecute the case relating to the fatal stabbing of Malik Burrell.
“We are continuing our investigation to determine whether the initial stabbing behind the counter was justified,” Dee said. “At this time, we are not prepared to go forward on any charges related to the death of Malik Burrell pending a full and complete investigation. We are, however, filing charges with regard to the incident at the door for the stabbing of Robert Burrell.”
Dean Moses contributed to this story
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.