New York

Bail set for smoke shop worker accused of fatally stabbing homeless man

A judge set bail Sunday for a Bronx smoke shop worker accused of fatally stabbing a homeless man involved in a violent argument with the worker’s 78-year-old boss.

Vernon Gowdy, 54, a former Parks Department employee with a rap sheet that includes two prior felonies, was charged with murder, manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon for the stabbing death of Kenneth Fair, 59, on Saturday.

According to police, an argument erupted Saturday afternoon outside Magic 7 Smoke Shop in University Heights after Fair complained that the shop manager, while carrying boxes into the store, intentionally bumped into him. The dispute turned physical, and Fair took a swing at the elderly manager, cops said.

At his arraignment Sunday in Bronx Criminal Court, prosecutors alleged Gowdy then went behind Fair, put him in a chokehold and stabbed him in the right upper chest after the dustup.

Gowdy’s defense lawyer Stacey Richman disputed that scenario, declaring “this was not murder” and that Gowdy was simply protecting his boss.

“The deceased attacked his boss and he wanted to protect him,” Richman told Judge Leticia Ramirez. “He thought he was going to kill his boss… His only concern was to protect his boss.”

Richman said Gowdy had been crying in their private conversation before the arraignment. “He is devastated,” she said.

At the hearing, Richman claimed Gowdy had “righted himself,” noting his last brush with the law was in 2011. After a near two-decade run working for the Parks Department, Gowdy was fired after being charged with forcible touching in 2011 — which he has disputed “as a false allegation,” Richman said.

After his Parks termination, Richman said Gowdy kept busy and “volunteered his time at the bodega” that eventually turned into a job.

“His work ethic was on point. I’ve never seen him hot-tempered, he’s always calm.” the smoke shop owner’s brother, Tylique Miles, said of Gowdy. “It was an unfortunate situation that could have been totally avoided. Someone died.”

Judge Ramirez set bail at $5,000 cash, or $25,000 partially secured bond and $25,000 insurance bond. Gowdy’s lawyer told the Daily News his family aimed to come up with the bond money, but his release was still pending Sunday night.

“We believe in our system and we believe in the justice of the system, and that this man should be exonerated,” Richman said.

He’s due back in court next week.

Gowdy’s wife of 13 years and her son declined to comment after the arraignment. The pair embraced Richman after leaving the courtroom.

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