Robbed, Beaten Gay Man Lured to Park Online

A fatal New York hate crime, in which a gay man was lured to a park and beaten, has raised new questions about criminals luring their victims out of their homes through the Internet.

Investigators believe designer Michael Sandy was targeted for one reason -- because he was gay.

"They were able to find his screen name and they somehow sought him out," said Mike Osgood, deputy inspector of the NYPD Task Force.

Three men allegedly chatted with Sandy online through AOL instant messenger and lured him to an isolated parking lot, telling him to bring enough money for a hotel room.

Once he arrived, police said his attackers attempted to rob him, and then beat him until he ran into a busy street.

"According to one witness," Osgood said, "Mr. Sandy looked so scared that he then bolted and ran into the third lane of traffic that was moving relatively fast, where he got struck by a vehicle."

The car never stopped.

After five days in a coma, Sandy was taken off life support on Friday, the day after his 29th birthday.

Three men were arrested and charged with hate crimes in the attack. They could also face murder charges.

"Right now, this is being investigated by the NYPD as a possible bias," Osgood said. "Right now the classification is anti-gay."

The attack sparked outrage and brought back memories of Matthew Shepard, the gay man who died after being assaulted and tied to a fence in Wyoming in 1998.

Shepard met his attackers in a bar, but the Internet has made it easy for criminals to hand-pick their prey.

The question now is whether cyber stalking could become a new trend.

"This is the first use of the World Wide Web to lure somebody in New York City that I have knowledge of," Osgood said. "This is definitely the first World Wide Web hate crime in the city of New York."

But, police said, it's not necessarily the first time for Sandy's attackers. They indicated they used the Internet before to target gay men, police said.

Still, Philip Smallman, an attorney for one of the suspects, John Fox, insisted his client had nothing to do with the attack.

"He's told me he wasn't involved in any violence with the man who was there," Smallman said. "He's very clear about that."