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NY cabbie stabbing suspect pleads not guilty

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Film student Michael Enright faces murder and assault hate crime charges
  • Authorities say he slashed a cab driver across the face and throat after asking if was Muslim
  • Enright is being held in a New York hospital for psychiatric evaluation
  • Stabbings
  • New York City
  • Crime
  • Islam

New York (CNN) -- A New York film student accused of slashing a cab driver's throat last month after asking if he was Muslim pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

The judge said he would not set bail for Michael Enright until he is medically cleared from Bellevue Hospital Center's psychiatric ward, where he was ordered for a mental evaluation earlier this month.

Enright is facing charges of second-degree attempted murder as a hate crime, second-degree assault as a hate crime, second-degree aggravated harassment as a hate crime and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, New York police Detective Mark Nell said.

People who know Enright described him after his arrest as someone who worked to build bridges across religious and ethnic boundaries.

They were "shocked and dumbfounded," said Robert Chase, executive director of Intersections International. Enright volunteered with the nonprofit group, which partially funded a trip he took in the spring to Afghanistan.

Enright, 21, was a film student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. As part of his thesis, he shot a film on American soldiers serving there, Chase said.

The goal of Intersections International, based in New York, is to promote peace across faith and racial boundaries, according to its website.

"Everyone was shocked and dumbfounded because of the nature of the crime and because of our experience with him here," Chase said. "It is sadly ironic."

He said Enright volunteered on Intersections International's Veteran-Civilian Dialogue program, which addresses trauma faced by returning veterans and encourages them to share their stories with civilians and one another.

"He was intrigued by the concept and started participating and then volunteering. Enright became involved in the work we do -- building bridges across race, culture and religion and forging common ground for reconciliation and peace," Chase said.

"The whole thing is unfathomable," he said. "He's a good guy. His work has been responsible. He's been diligent and hardworking."

Meanwhile, the cab driver, Ahmed Sharif, called last month for New Yorkers to "love and respect" one another.

"This is a city of all colors, races, religions," he told a group of supporters outside City Hall.

But Sharif said he was targeted because of his faith.

"Of course, it was because of my religion," he said, noting that the passenger "made some jokes about Ramadan," the Muslim holy month of fasting, and attacked him after asking him if he was Muslim.

"Sometimes I feel very lonely and unsafe," said Sharif, who has lived in New York for more than 25 years and has been driving a taxi for 15 of them.

Authorities said Enright was intoxicated at the time of the incident; they found an empty bottle of scotch in a backpack he had with him.

The Taxi Workers Alliance said Sharif, 43, a practicing Muslim originally from Bangladesh, was slashed across the neck, face, shoulder and hand.

Bleeding profusely, Sharif escaped and flagged down a police officer, who arrested Enright.

The attack occurred amid public debate over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque to be called Park51 two blocks from the site of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.