Lorenzo Fonerin, the Man Who Recorded a Homeless Man on Fire, Sees a Ray of Hope

Lorenzo Fonerin, who recorded a homeless man being set on fire, saw some hope when a panel of Brooklyn appeals judges declared him “not an accessory” on March 7. It is not clear what will happen to his sentence of 15 years in prison, as the crime remains reprehensible and deplorable according to judges.

Tasheen Hand, a homeless man, was sleeping on a sidewalk near an East New York bodega totally unaware that danger lurked near him. It was September 23, 2012, and as Hand, who was suffering from a severe mental illness, slept, a young man named Suliman Ahmed thought of a horrifying act to executed upon him.

Ahmed worked at the bodega along with a junior employee named Lorenzo Fonerin, and planned to set Hand on fire as he slept. Fonerin, then 20 years old, was allegedly instructed by his employer to film him dousing a sleeping Hand with lighter fluid before lighting up a book of matches and dropping it on the victim.

As Fonerin filmed Ahmed, he was allegedly heard saying, “do that s**t, man” after which Ahmed set Hand on fire. Hand was reportedly woken up by bystanders who told him that he was on fire.

Man on Fire

The shocking cell phone footage showed Hand on fire and staggering around for a minute, after which Fonerin put it out with water from the bodega. By then, Hand suffered burns spanning 30% of his body and had to be hospitalized. He was put in a medically induced coma for two weeks.

Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

Suliman Ahmed’s case is still pending as he was previously found mentally unfit to stand trial. However, Fonerin was not spared and in 2015 was sentenced to 15 years in prison for recording the video.

Fonerin Not an Accomplice

On Wednesday, March 7, 2018, a Brooklyn appeals court snuffed out Fonerin’s assault conviction by arguing that, even though his actions were “deplorable,” the evidence did not fit the charge of him being an accomplice.

The majority of the Brooklyn appeals court judges wrote that being at the scene of the crime and knowing it was happening wasn’t enough for Fonerin to be held as an accessory to the sickening crime. They said that the evidence did not show that Fonerin either “requested” or “commanded” the assault.

Opposition to Judges’ Decision

These three judges doused Fonerin’s conviction and indictment, as two others protested that his 2015 guilty verdict should not be second-guessed. They maintained that Fonerin gave Ahmed a crude command and “was not merely a reporter of the incident; he was an accessory to the crime.”

On March 7, 2018, Fonerin’s appeals lawyers did not dilute his role in the crime. Attorney Randall Unger said, “Admittedly, what he did was morally pretty bad. But he didn’t participate in the setting of the fire in any way at all. The Appellate Division put emotions aside, which the jury was unable to do.”

Victim Still Carrying Scars

What happens to Fonerin now? It is not known what his fate will be as he is still serving out his 15-year sentence. But a spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office had this to say: “We will review the decision and consider our options.” Meanwhile, Tasheen Hand continues to live out a painful life with his burns as a reminder of what happened.