Morgan Stanley executive William B. Jennings pleaded not guilty Friday morning in state Superior Court in Stamford stemming from his violent dispute with a cabbie over taxi fare from New York to Darien, then walked out of the courthouse through a small scrum of reporters.
Jennings' "pro-forma not guilty" plea was given by his lawyer, Eugene Riccio in a hearing that came first on the docket and lasted only about 30 seconds. (The court system wants pleas made as soon as possible, but actual decisions on whether to plead guilty or innocent are almost always made after the initial hearing, and a change to a guilty plea is typically granted.)
Judge Robert L. Genuario, who signed the arrest warrant against Jennings on Feb. 17, gave the defendant a court date of April 12. By having Jennings go first, the court was able to empty seats in the courtroom used by reporters, who left when Jennings did.
Attired in a neat, dark suit and, on his face, a blank expression, Jennings walked out of the cavernous Stamford courtroom and into the hallway, where he ignored a reporter's pro-forma question about whether he would have any comment on the case. (His lawyer has been answering many questions from many reporters about the case, for days.)
As he left the building, he ignored the same pro-forma question from some of the dozen reporters and photographers. Just before entering the parking garage with his client, Riccio said they would have no comment at that time.
Jennings' arrest, which garnered news media attention in New York City and in the financial press, stemmed from a Dec. 21 incident in which he disputed the cab fare after a late night ride from Manhattan to his home on Knollwood Lane. The versions of the incident given by Jennings and the cab driver, Mohamed Ammar, differ widely on many points.
Both agree that after the cab stopped:
- Ammar and Jennings disputed the fare.
- Ammar then drove the cab with Jennings still in it, from where they were parked to downtown Darien.
- Jennings took out a knife and got into a struggle with Ammar, resulting in Ammar being cut on his right hand.
- The cab then stopped, and Jennings fled.
- Ammar then drove a bit longer, then called Darien police. Jennings didn't call.
- After news reports appeared in the local press about the incident, Jennings contacted police and eventually was arrested.
Where the two accounts differ
Ammar said he demanded $204 for the ride, which is the standard fare set by the city Taxi and Limousine Commission rate book. Jennings said Ammar demanded $294, and he offered $160, which is the rate he normally paid limousines to take him home.
The cab driver told police Jennings asked to be let out of the cab, but he said he would drive to the police station and was attempting to find it. Jennings said Ammar drove wildly through downtown Darien and threatened to take Jennings back to New York City with him.
According to Ammar, Jennings swore at him and said, "I'm going to kill you, you should go back to your own country!" Jennings denied he said either of those things. Ammar is an Egyptian immigrant and a U.S. citizen.
Ammar said Jennings tried to stab him in the head, and he used his right arm and hand to protect himself, getting cut in the process. Jennings said Ammar reached back and got cut grabbing the knife. Police said Ammar had cuts on his index finger and right hand, resulting in six stitches.
The cab stopped about 30 yards from the Darien Sport Shop, Jennings said, where he left it and went home. He didn't call police then or until much later because he was afraid Ammar might retaliate, knowing where Jennings lived.
Ammar's allegation that Jennings told him he should go back to his own country resulted in the second-degree intimidation by bias or bigotry charge.
When Darien police Detective Chester Perkowski asked Jennings why fear of Ammar didn't lead him to call police for protection, according to Perkowski's arrest warrant affidavit, "Jennings reply to that was he didn't know what to do, he just wanted the whole thing to go away."
Editor's notes: This article was continuously updated until 11:43 a.m. Friday.
Jennings' and Ammar's statements to police, along with the arrest warrant affidavit, have been posted with about the case.