Defendant Kendel Felix detailed the abduction and death of Menachem (Max) Stark, H”yd, in a videotaped confession played before a packed courtroom on Friday.
Felix gave the videotaped confession to Kenneth Taub, Chief of the Homicide Bureau at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, on April 30, 2014, several hours after his arrest. The prosecution played the tape on Friday, the seventh, and most anticipated, day of the trial of Felix, the only man who has thus far been charged in the tragic death of Stark on the night of January 2-3, 2014; the tape was to have been played on Thursday, but a technical issue with the volume forced its delay by one day.
At the beginning of the tape, Taub gave Felix an extended version of the Miranda warnings. After each clause of Taub’s Miranda warning, Felix said that he understood. Finally, Taub asked, “Do you wish to speak to me?”
“I think so, yeah,” replied Felix, and with that he started confessing.
“I was approached by Erskine Felix,” began Kendel Felix. Erskine is Kendel’s cousin – a foreman at construction sites at which Kendel worked as a carpenter.
Erskine said, “Yo, this dude owes me money. He’s got a lot of money; we can get some from him,” recalled Kendel. Erskine proceeded to explain to Kendel how “this guy Max,” whom Kendel had never met, earned money from rents on buildings that he owned.
Erskine said, “He has a lot of money,” and then, “I’m like, ‘Wow,’ ” said Kendel. Throughout his confession, Kendel repeatedly said some version of that phrase that Menachem “has a lot of money,” indicating that he may have been motivated not merely by the prospect of having the debt to Erskine paid, but by the prospect of robbing Menachem of his money.
Kendel recalled Erskine saying, “We’re going to get him to give us some money or sign a check or whatever; he has a lot of money, that would be nothing for him.”
“So what was the plan, exactly?” Taub asked.
“We’ll get him to write us a check or get money from a bank,” Kendel replied.
On the day of January 2, 2014, as a snowstorm blanketed New York City, Erskine called Kendel and told him that they would carry out their plan that night.
At this point in the confession, Taub asked Kendel several questions regarding the details of that day, and Kendel frequently said some variation of, “I can’t remember.” Taub then asked, “Is there something about your memory that’s a problem for you?” Kendel proceeded to describe how he had been in a motorcycle accident several years earlier, had suffered a brain injury, and since then often had issues with his memory.
On the witness stand, Taub explained to prosecutor Howard Jackson that while suspects often tell him they can’t recall something, Kendel was saying it more often than usual, which prompted him to ask if he had memory issues. Taub was unaware of Kendel’s accident prior to asking him this question.
That evening, Kendel and Erskine went to Menachem’s office on Rutledge Street in Williamsburg, in a silver Grand Caravan that belonged to Erskine’s father. Kendel was driving, and Erskine was giving instructions.
Kendel said that Erskine instructed him to distract Menachem by starting to speak with him as he left his office. According to Kendel, Erskine is the one who fought Menachem and “got him in the van”; Kendel said he was not part of the physical struggle. “I’m not strong enough to do that; I was just standing there,” he said.
On the witness stand, however, Taub said he believed this was an instance of Kendel minimizing his role in the crime during the confession: In security-camera footage of the abduction, two men can be seen struggling with the victim.
Kendel continued: “Erskine got him in the van and tied him up, taped his hands.” Menachem “was making noises. He was asking, ‘What do you want?’ ”
Kendel said that he drove while Erskine was in the back with Menachem. They drove to the home of another man, Irvine Henry, who came out to the car.
Then, according to Kendel, Erskine exclaimed, “He don’t look like he’s breathing!”
“I was confused and scared,” said Kendel.
Menachem died of suffocation, but in his confession, Kendel never discussed how Menachem died. His only mention of Menachem’s death was at this point, as he said that they suddenly realized Menachem was no longer breathing.
They then drove to Erskine’s house, and Erskine’s brother Kendall came to the car. Then they returned toward the area of Menachem’s office. Erskine and Irvine Henry got out of the car several blocks from Menachem’s office and walked toward the office, to scope out the area, as Kendel and Kendall remained in the van with Menachem.
At this point, Erskine and Henry saw that the area was swarming with police, who had been called after Menachem failed to come home that night. Erskine and Henry then called Kendel and Kendall and told them to drive away.
Kendel and Kendall drove off into the snowy night, looking for a place to discard Menachem.
They drove to Great Neck, Long Island, where Kendall pointed out a dumpster at a gas station that was closed, and suggested that they dump the body there. “I’m scared,” Kendel recalled feeling. “None of this … was supposed to happen. I’m just trying to get out of this cuz this is not my thing.”
According to Kendel, Kendall then put Menachem in the dumpster.
Taub asked if Kendel helped.
“I ain’t got no strength to help,” replied Kendel.
Then, Kendall suggested that they get gas to burn the body. They drove to another gas station, where Kendall filled up several bottles of gasoline, for which Kendel paid cash. They then returned to the Dumpster, where Kendall doused Menachem with the gas. Kendel made no mention of who lit the fire.
The two of them then drove back home to Brooklyn.
On cross-examination, Kendel’s attorney, Jack Goldberg, asked Taub whether Kendel was merely “regurgitating information he had previously received” from police. This has been one of Goldberg’s themes throughout his cross-examinations.
“Not at all,” replied Taub.
Later Friday, the prosecution sought to prove that Kendel was with Menachem on the night of his murder by presenting cellphone-location evidence, showing that Kendel’s phone and Menachem’s phone hit off the same locations at the same time.
On Monday, the prosecution will wrap up its case and the defense will begin presenting its side. Goldberg will have a doctor who examined Kendel testify that Kendel’s brain injury left him susceptible to aggressive police questioning.
In conversations with Hamodia after the confession tape was played, members of the Stark family discussed how difficult it was to hear the description of their beloved Menachem’s final moments and final words.
“It was heartbreaking to watch,” said Ari Stark, one of Menachem’s nine siblings. “It was devastating. Very painful. My heart is bleeding right now.”
“It was replaying the scene,” said a sister.
The most haunting part of the confession for the Stark family was Menachem’s final words.
“The main thing that made us emotional is my brother asking them, ‘What do you want from me?’ ” said Menachem’s brother, Yoily Stark. “He was saying, ‘I want to settle this.’ ”
“My brother was begging for his life,” said Yitzy Stark. “This was very painful – to hear his final words.”
Yoily Stark also recalled how Menachem, who sometimes carried large amounts of money with him, frequently said that if anyone would try to rob him, he would just give up the money.
Menachem would always say, “I would never fight back,” said Yoily. “In fact, 10 years ago, Menachem was robbed, and he just gave up all the money he had.”
“He was a peaceful man,” said Ari.
“It was very painful to hear the true story,” said one sister.
“But this was clear evidence of Kendel Felix’s guilt,” said a sister-in-law.
Though watching the video was difficult, it does “give us a little closure,” said Menachem’s mother-in-law.
“To us, he is still alive,” said another sister. “He was the father of our family. He is still inspiring us, and he always will.”