The British-born ringleader of one of the city’s most notorious crimes — the 1986 killing of a black man in Howard Beach — has died.
Jon Lester, 48, committed suicide on Aug. 14 in Manchester, England, his sister told the Daily News.
“He suffered from depression,” Jayne Lester said in a brief interview.
Lester was a baby-faced 17-year-old when he led an attack on three black men whose car had broken down in the predominately white Queens neighborhood on Dec. 20, 1986.
“Kill the n—–s,” Lester yelled as he and the teens he rounded up ambushed the victims.
Michael Griffith, 23, sprinted away from the mob and onto the Belt Parkway where he was fatally struck by a speeding car.
The white teens brutally assaulted Griffith’s stepfather, 36-year-old Cedric Sandiford, striking him with a baseball bat, a tire iron and tree branches.
The third man, Timothy Grimes, managed to outrun his attackers and escape without injury.
The crime ignited the city’s already simmering racial tensions.
The Rev. Al Sharpton led marches through Howard Beach and was cursed by local whites. Mayor Ed Koch likened the killing to a lynching. “This incident can only be described as rivaling the kind of lynching party that existed in the Deep South,” Koch said.
Lester was convicted of manslaughter and assault for his role in the death of Griffith.
He was sentenced in 1988 to 10 to 30 years in prison. Two of his pals were also convicted of manslaughter.
Behind bars, Lester earned an associate’s degree in business administration, played guitar and wrote music that included a song for Griffith’s mother.
He insisted to The News that he didn’t know Griffith had been fatally struck until the news came out the next day.
Lester was sprung from prison sporting scars from fights with inmates — and deported to England in May 2001.
Back in his homeland, he went to college, earned a degree in engineering and launched his own electrical services business, according to the New York Times, which was first to report Lester’s death.
Lester moved in with his girlfriend and had three children. But despite the quiet life he carved out for himself, Lester struggled with the demons that had been haunting him since 1986.
Jayne Lester told The Times that her brother’s depression stemmed from “the fact that he was wrongly convicted.”
“He was just tormented,” she said. “He was never the same person.”
Jayne Lester announced on Facebook that the family was bringing her brother’s body to the U.S. for burial.
“Today we are bringing Jonathan L. Lester home,” she wrote on Sept. 12. “At last he will be at rest in the USA. Where his heart was and always wanted to be.”
Among the people who postedwas Victoria Gotti, a former neighbor and the daughter of the legendary mob boss John Gotti.
“So, so sad,” she wrote. “My love to you all may, you find peace.”
In an interview with a British paper in 2001, Lester expressed remorse for the crime but pushed back against the claims that he was motivated by racial animus.
“I bitterly regret what I did,” he said. “But I don’t suppose I will ever escape my past.”
“I know this race thing is following me wherever I go, but I have never been a racist,” Lester added. “I was very young when it all happened. I didn’t know what I was doing.”