The brother of murdered NYPD Officer Sean McDonald told the parole board about a repeated twist that was beyond cruel during their father’s final days in 2005.
“When my father started to decline, his mind started to deteriorate,” retired NYPD detective Andrew McDonald reported. “I would visit him daily with coffee and pastry. We would sit and talk when he was able. Some days, he was lucid enough to talk about the Yankee game, or the weather or a movie he saw decades earlier. Other times I would walk in and he would ask me why Sean hadn’t visited.”
Sean had been shot to death in March 1994, when he interrupted a robbery at a Bronx clothing shop by two gunmen who were seeking quick cash to party and had committed at least 10 other hold-ups. Andrew had been working nearby that night, having become a cop at the same time as Sean two years before. Andrew had responded to a report of an officer down. He learned only after he arrived that the officer was his brother.
Sean was rushed to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Andrew had to arrange for their father, Johnny McDonald, and Sean’s wife, Janet McDonald, to get there. Janet had been waitressing at an upstate steakhouse and was still wearing her apron when she arrived. The jingling of coins accompanied her steps as she went down a long hallway to the emergency room. She and Sean had three kids to raise, the youngest only 18 months. She had been working for tips to augment her husband’s salary as a 26-year-old cop.
Andrew, then just 23, had to inform Janet that Sean was dead. Andrew also had to do what he could to console his father. Andrew could not have imagined that he would repeatedly need to break the terrible news all over again 11 years later, each time his father would ask why Sean had not come to see him.
“You cannot imagine what that feels like,” Andrew now said at a hearing concerning possible parole for the two killers. “It takes the wind out of your lungs. It’s like a punch in the face. It took me a few second to recover so I could explain to my father for a second and third time that his son was murdered. I had to watch him remember and react alone. Then it was me that consoled him all over again as his wound had just been ripped open again.”
Andrew continued reading his six-page typewritten victim impact statement in an upstairs conference room at the parole office on West 40th Street in Manhattan. The sole parole board member present at the June 29 proceeding might not even be among those who will decide whether the men who murdered Sean are freed.
But the stenographer was recording each word so that the statement could be entered into the record when the first of the two killers, Javier Miranda, comes up for parole on Monday, July 9. The second, Rudolfo Rodriguez comes up in November. New York State recently paroled Herman Bell, who was convicted in 1979 of assassinating two NYPD cops. A co-defendant, Anthony Bottom is also up for parole. Another cop killer, Robert Hayes, is due to be paroled on July 24.
“As you can see my father is not here to describe what it was like to lose his son,” Andrew now continued. “He died after a battle heart disease and kidney failure in 2005. I will attempt to describe his loss for you: They said a parent should never have to bury a child. There is no truer statement.”
Andrew continued, “When Sean was murdered by inmate Miranda my father’s heart was broken. [He] went from being a happy, charismatic leprechaun to a sad, bitter person. He smiled when he dwelled on memories, but his happiness soon turned sour when he realized by why the memories were cut short. The son he worked so hard to bring up right was murdered at 26 years old. My father was broken, gutted.”
Andrew went on, “In the months after Sean’s murder, I watched my father deteriorate. He gave up his will to live.”
And this was the father who had always been the most resilient man Andrew had known.
“Sean and I got our strength and sense of purpose from him,” Andrew continued. “He emigrated from Ireland with nothing to his name. He got by with a work ethic and good moral standard. He had suffered his setbacks in life. He was laid off from his job with the airlines around the time my mother got breast cancer. He didn’t turn to crime, [or] or work the system—he found whatever work he could.”
The mother’s condition had worsened.
“He dropped everything to make sure she was taken care of and could die at home in Ireland. He lost everything as the cancer took her. Sean was 11, I was 7. We returned to New York homeless—we stayed with my uncle and his three grown children in his two bedroom apartment.”
“Times were tough. Sean and I knew what it was like to miss a meal. We knew about Christmas without gifts. We knew what it was like to shop for school clothes at the Salvation Army.”
Andrew noted, “Through all this, my father didn’t resort to crime. He asked family for as much help as they could provide and fought through adversity. That is why Sean and I grew up to be good people.”
Andrew harkened back to what New Yorker call the bad old days.
“Growing up in New York City in the 1970s was rough. It was a different place back then. Crime was everywhere. Jobs were hard to come by. It didn’t matter how smart we were, Sean and I didn’t have the means to go to college – it just wasn’t an option. We needed money to pay the bills.”
The brothers had started working at 14 in a Queens deli.
“We didn’t choose a life of crime,” Andrew now noted. “We didn’t try to get over on other people, take what we wanted from people weaker than us. We worked and became reliable members of society.”
Sean served four years in the army, and then joined the NYPD with Andrew. The McDonald brothers and 2,102 other recruits were sworn in at Brooklyn Tech High School at what was official recorded as “11:59 and 59 seconds P.M., Tuesday, June 30, 1992,” in what the Mayor’s office privately termed “a gimmick with a capital G” whereby direly needed cops would be hired in the last second of one fiscal year, but would not start being paid until the first second of the next, thereby giving the city 12 months before it had to start kicking in toward their future pensions. Sean finished at the top of their academy class, with an academic average of 96.5, a distinction recognized by the gold shoulder braid at their graduation. He was bright and he knew the Patrol Guide that is the basis for promotional exams and he seemed sure to rise up through the ranks, maybe become a chief like those who were up on a dais at the ceremony.
Both brothers were sent to the Bronx. Andrew—who averaged one point less than Sean, just shy of a gold braid—was placed in the 46th Precinct. Sean was assigned to the 44th. The brothers from Queens found the Bronx a perfect place to be cops. They understood what it was to be struggling immigrants.
Then came the night that Andrew had since replayed in his mind countless times and now recounted in his impact statement.
“On March 15, 1994, Sean was assigned to a foot post guarding an abandoned building when he was notified by a member of the community that a store around the corner was being robbed by two men. So, doing his job, he went and checked on the store. Sean arrived at the scene and saw two men inside.”
Sean could not see the shop owner and his wife, who lay in the back, bound with duct tape and terrified.
“Sean cautiously stood halfway in the doorway, and called the first person over and searched him for weapons… Sean was oblivious to what he walked into. As Sean concluded his questioning of the first suspect, he ordered him to a wall and called the second suspect over. As the first suspect put his hands on the wall, the second approached, but before Sean could search him the suspect pulled a gun.”
Andrew noted that Sean was in uniform, so there could have been no mistaking who he was and what he represented.
“As Sean saw the gun, he grabbed it. With his weapon holstered, Sean struggled for the gun—for his life. Then, inmate Miranda came off the wall and punched Sean so hard in the face he lost his grip on the gun and stumbled out onto the sidewalk.”
“As Sean fell out the door, he was shot five times in the back. Sean was mortally wounded. As he lay there dying on the cold sidewalk calling for help over his radio inmate Miranda and his partner in crime, inmate Rodriguez, ran over him to get to their awaiting getaway car. These murderers fled the scene and did not look back.”
Andrew went on, “Sean’s plans, ideas, dreams, wishes—all gone. All because inmate Miranda and inmate Rodriguez decided they would get what they wanted the easy way. For Sean there will be not more birthdays. No more Sunday car rides. No communions. Weddings. Baptisms. Nothing. Sean would not see his kids grow up. He will never meet his grandchildren. He will not be there for his kids when they struggle. When they need guidance, a hug. A part of them was unfairly taken from them, and they will never get it back. Sean would never see his father again. Nor this brother, his partner, friends, cousins, neighbors.”
The killers and been quickly caught.
“I remember discussing the case with the Bronx prosecutor after Sean was killed… He explained that 25 years to life was the maximum sentence his murderers could get. I was blown away—how does anybody think that 25 years equals enough time for murder? How was that possible? Being 23 years old at the time that seemed like a lifetime away. But here we are.”
Andrew posed a question.
“And now, 25 years later, these men believe they have paid their debt? They think 25 years covers the tab of taking a life? Not even close. I still have the image of Sean lying dead on a metal table burned into my memory. He still had blood in his nose hours after being attacked and murdered by inmate Miranda and inmate Rodriguez. Those memories cannot be erased. There is no parole from my memories.”
The preparation of this victim impact statement had in itself had an impact, giving Andrew sleepless nights.
“I lay there and think about ‘what if’ or ‘what could have been.’ Sean was 26 when he died. I have lived almost that long without him. The end of my suffering is nowhere in sight.”
Andrew’s life had a Sean-sized hole only Sean could have filled.
“Sean never met my wife Helen of 23 years. Sean was not there for my wedding. Sean was not there for the birth of my son, Andrew. I can’t call Sean to watch him for the weekend. I can’t call Sean for advice. I can’t call Sean just to bullshit or tease him like brothers do…
“He was not there when I got promoted. He was not there when I also got hurt doing police work and had to retire.”
Andrew described the suffering that had been visited upon the entire family.
“Death by a thousand cuts. The cuts come in the form of painful memories and regrets. They keep coming day after day and there is no end in sight. We will not be granted parole from our pain.
“Our nightmare just gets worse because of these murders. When do I get my life back? When does Janet get her husband back?”
Then there were Sean’s three kids, now grown.
“When do Jessica, Sean and Kerry get their father back?”
And there was a next generation.
“When does Kerry’s daughter Destiny get to play with her grandfather?”
“When we get back what was taken from us, when our pain stops, then he can come and ask for forgiveness and attempt to gain his freedom.
“As far as I am concerned inmate Miranda gave his freedom away the night he caused my brother's death. When inmate Miranda ran over Sean while he lay dying on a concrete sidewalk, he sealed his fate.”
Miranda had offered a kind of apology in 1995 and he had done so again just the other day in a statement he had a quarter century to compose. But he was continuing to insist he had only been standing there with upraised hands when he suddenly heard shots.
“Did he ever take responsibility for what he did?” Andrew asked. “From day one he has been pointing fingers. Inmate Miranda wasn’t sorry then, and his is not sorry now. Don’t believe his bullshit and get-out-of-jail scheme. He conveniently apologized back when he was getting sentenced and now again when he is eligible for parole. There has only been deafening silence between his two hollow apologies.”
Andrew presented an undeniable truth.
“Sean made things better for people in the Bronx. Inmate Miranda made things worse.”
Andrew warned, “When you listen to Miranda's plea for parole, don’t be fooled. Don’t fall for the hustle. People like inmate Miranda and inmate Rodriguez do what they have to do regardless of what it does to other people just so they can get what they want. They steal. They lie. They murderer. Let them out and they will hurt someone else. And when they do – that's on you.”
Andrew made a request.
“Please remember Miranda took the life of a uniformed police officer so he could get away with stealing less than $100 from hard-working citizens that he tied up in the back of a store. He was a professional armed robber. He killed a 26-year-old dedicated Army veteran who became a New York City police officer to do the right thing. Sean’s memory deserves that you deny parole for both these murderers.
“Inmate Miranda lost his freedom because of the choices he made, not just that night, but every night before when he robbed people of his community. Instead of doing the right thing, instead of being a contributing member of society, inmate Miranda made his choices and now he must deal with the consequences. There is no restitution for murder.
“Let a cop killer out of jail is a slap in the face to every single police officer, and every law-abiding citizen. You are better than that.
“Do the right thing and keep these murderers locked away.”
When he was done reading his statement, Andrew left the parole building on West 40th Street in the city he had continued to serve even though his heartbroken father and newly widowed sister-in-law had urged him to leave the NYPD.
“I said, ‘No way, I tried so hard to get on that job. I’m not leaving now,” Andrew recalled to The Daily Beast.
The police department had not wanted to risk having a second McDonald brother killed in the Bronx and he had been transferred to less violent Queens. But he had shared Sean’s love of working that more beleaguered borough and he had managed to work his way back.
Right at the time of Sean's death, the NYPD had begun instituting new strategies that would turn what had been called Fear City into the safest big city in America. The metropolis that had been so broke it had to pull a gimmick with a capital G to hire cops was now booming thanks to the efforts of those same cops and thousands of others. The once crime-ridden block onto which Andrew stepped after giving his victim statement now has two tourist hotels with a third being built directly next door to the parole building.
But boomtown New York too often forgets that the transformation was achieved at monumental sacrifice. Sean was one of 46 New York cops who have given their lives since the city began its transformation, not counting those who perished on 9/11 and have since died from illnesses related to the attack.
And the families of the cops have had to live with the fear that their loved one might join the list of the fallen. Andrew’s wife never met Sean, but she did attend his wake and knew from the start the risks her husband faced.
Even so, Andrew would no doubt still be a working Bronx cop had he not been hurt several times, finally while chasing a carjacker and forced to retire.
“I loved it up there,” Andrew said simply.
Andrew said that despite having watched Sean’s three children grow up without a father.
Despite the years of hurt for everyone who loved his brother.
Despite being notified last month that the two killers would soon be up for parole.
Despite having to register officially as a victim, for only certified victims make an impact statement.
Despite having to tell Janet that he could not register for her, as regulations require each victim to do so personally.
Despite the sleepless nights that came with composing his statement.
Despite having to deliver the impact statement in the absence of even a single parole board member who was sure to vote on whether the killers should go free.
And despite the cruel twist that required him to repeatedly inform his father that Sean was dead.
Andrew had come to the hearing with Sean’s former partner, retired Detective Daniel Meade, and a retired cop friend who had survived being shot by a parolee. They continued on into the city where thousands of civilians who would have otherwise been homicide victims were now walking about and working and loving and raising families.
The history of the city includes words that were sorrowfully uttered by a heart broken Johnny McDonald as he sat in the emergency room after the first time he had been told that his son Sean was dead back in 1994, just as the great metamorphosis was beginning.
“He was a lovely lad.”