E.V. graffiti artist has been in jail for 5½ years for murder, without a trial

jairo, self-portrait copy
Jairo Pastoressa being arraigned in court in October 2010 for second-degree murder, left, in the death of Christopher Jusko. After Jusko was slain outside 272 E. Seventh St., a memorial photo of him, right, with a message saying he “will always be part of the Stuy Town Fam” was left outside the building.   Villager file photos by Jefferson Siegel, left, and Lincoln Anderson
Jairo Pastoressa being arraigned in court in October 2010 for second-degree murder, left, in the death of Christopher Jusko. After Jusko was slain at 272 E. Seventh St., a memorial photo of him, right, with a message saying he “will always be part of the Stuy Town Fam” was left outside the building. Villager file photos by Jefferson Siegel, left, and Lincoln Anderson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | An East Village graffiti artist arrested for killing a rival tagger more than five years ago still hasn’t had a trial and remains locked up on Rikers Island to this day.

According to police, around 5:30 a.m. on Mon., Oct. 25, 2010, Jairo Pastoressa, then 25, stabbed another graffiti writer, Christopher Jusko, 21, with an 8-inch kitchen knife in the stairway of a squatter building at 272 E. Seventh St. outside Pastoressa’s second-floor apartment. Slashed in the neck and stabbed in the back, Jusko staggered down the stairs and out of the building and died on the sidewalk in front.

Pastoressa turned himself in to police the next day and was arrested for second-degree murder.

The two men had reportedly been feuding over a woman.

Antonio “Chico” Garcia, the legendary Lower East Side graffiti artist, had been working with Pastoressa back then, doing street murals, and saw him as someone who could be a worthy heir to his work, carrying on the neighborhood’s graffiti tradition. Garcia at the time told The Villager that while Pastoressa was gentle he was also “a jealous guy.”

An ex-girlfriend, Alice a.k.a. “Cuba,” also told The Villager back then that Pastoressa had been controlling and abusive during their relationship, and that she had once had him arrested for assaulting her. She claimed that Pastoressa sometimes was physically abusive to his pit bulls, as well.

Meanwhile, his mother, Anna Pastoressa, recently called the paper to express her outrage about the lack of a trial, and also to vouch for her son’s character.

“My son acted in self-defense,” she stressed, adding, “He has a lot of support from the community.”

Over the years, court dates have been set, but then pushed back, over and over.

“This is the story that has now been going on for five years,” she said. “The prosecutor always says they aren’t ready. He is taking his sweet time, and the judge has allowed it. Jairo had a pretrial hearing in 2012 — that was three years ago. My only thought is, they don’t have a case — why would you wait five-and-a-half years if you have a case?”

Anna said that as Jairo described it to her, on that fateful night, he had three people over at his place — a man and a woman who were lifelong friends of his, plus a second woman.

“Jairo wasn’t dating [her],” she stated of this other woman.

“They were eating, smoking pot, drinking and chatting. Whatever,” Anna said. “They were having a good time.”

There were a number of phone calls back and forth to Jusko, who eventually showed up at the building. Jusko was bigger, around 6 feet tall, while Jairo, his mom noted, “is a shrimp.” She said threats had been made that gave Jairo reason to fear for his life. According to reports at the time, though, it was Jairo who issued a challenge to Jusko.

There was a confrontation between Jusko and Jairo in the hallway. Jusko wound up stabbed, then staggering out of the building, before dying on the pavement outside. Anna said, as Jairo explained it to her, the two had struggled over the knife, which left Jairo with a deep cut on his left finger. She said he claimed to have called 911 but there was no reply.

Covered in blood, and with the knife stuck in his pants waist, Jairo walked down to her home on Delancey St. He eventually turned himself in at the Seventh Precinct and was arrested and then taken to the Ninth Precinct.

After the fatal fight, Jairo “lost his mind for months,” his mother said. Initially, according to her, he was on a suicide watch during his first few weeks at Rikers.

“His defense lawyer said he was delusional,” she said. “He called for a ‘730’ — not fit to stand trial.”

Two court-appointed psychiatrists diagnosed him as bipolar, she said.

For three months, he was incarcerated at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island, where he was put on psychotropic medications, including Depakote and Risperdal. He slowly calmed down.

After the three months, Anna said, he was transferred back to Rikers.

But he became sluggish and overweight due to the medication. They later got his dosage lowered, and Jairo eventually stopped taking the meds entirely because he found it was zonking him out too much.

Fast-forward to the present and Jairo is now halfway into his sixth year behind bars without having had a trial. His mother said he has suffered “physical abuse by other inmates and mental abuse by correction officers.” He gets beaten up by inmates about four times per year, she said.

The latest beatings came just a few weeks ago at breakfast, after he questioned why everyone else had been served a muffin except for him. Later, she said, as he was recovering in the “intake area” — where new prisoners are brought in — he was beaten up again.

Jairo’s artsy personality and appearance simply annoy some fellow inmates and guards, she said. Barring certain colors, prisoners at Rikers can dress how they want, and his look apparently offends some of them.

“He wears a sweater, jeans — he doesn’t wear baggy jeans — and shoes, not sneakers. He wears eyeglasses. He looks like a nerd,” she said. “He gets beaten up because he’s not black and he’s not white. They want him to pick a category — black, white or Hispanic. He’s an interracial child.”

Anna is originally from Italy. Jairo’s father, who has remarried, is originally from Brazil. She is an international real estate broker and still co-op president of a building on E. Seventh St. where she owns a unit and where Jairo grew up. Jairo’s father, with whom she is not in contact, is a musician.

A self-portrait by Jairo Pastoressa on a scrap of Department of Corrections bedsheet.
A self-portrait by Jairo Pastoressa on a scrap of Department of Correction bedsheet.



She said her son, after being in the system for so long, could write a book about all the drugs, violence and corruption inside Rikers, but that right now is not the time for him to tell everything he knows, since obviously he could suffer retaliation. Although Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to reform Rikers, she said she hasn’t seen that.

“De Blasio is not doing anything,” she scoffed. “Bloomberg did one thing — he changed the visitors’ lockers. I don’t see any changes.

“The buildings leak when it rains and snows. The whole thing needs to be wiped out. That island should not exist. It needs to be redone from scratch.”

Indeed, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has recently called for shutting down Rikers and replacing it with separate jails in each borough. De Blasio calls the idea “impractical,” but his chief nemesis, Governor Andrew Cuomo, supports it.

Anna talks on the phone with her son twice every day. For privacy, they speak in Italian, so that others can’t understand what he’s saying.

jairo, trains
An A and a C train connecting in a heart, for his mother, Anna, and sister, Cassia.

Despite it all, Jairo continues to produce art behind bars, right in his cell or in common areas, although working with a very limited range of materials. He fashions pigments from things like pink Kool-Aid powder, tea bags and even newspaper — soaking the paper to extract the black ink. Once in a while, a friendly guard might give him some colored pencils, and this “is like a million dollars” to him, she said. He’ll mix the pigments into body wash to create a kind of paint. When making collages, toothpaste is his glue.

For canvases, he rips up Department of Correction bedsheets. The original “D.O.C.” logo stamp can be seen in some of his works. For paint brushes, he uses toothbrushes. He uses straws to blow paint to achieve more abstract effects. He has made soap sculptures, even soap rings. He creates flowers out of crumpled and rolled-up toilet paper, she said.

jairo, c.o.
A piece Pastoressa did for a correction officer at Rikers Island Prison. However, the officer was transferred to another location within Rikers and the artist was never able to send it to him or her.


“He’s done incredible artwork with nothing,” she said. “I can fill up maybe two galleries with what he has done at Rikers.”

Every week, she brings him a fresh pack of white Hanes T-shirts that he decorates with his art. Some of them he makes for his mom and sister, Cassia, and his friends on the outside. Inmates and correction officers also place orders with him for the shirts, and in return he gets money from them to buy things at the commissary, like coffee, creamer, sugar packets or salt. The prisoners must purchase all these things for themselves, and sometimes also buy supplemental food, like beans or tuna, she said.

jairo, cassia
A piece he made for his sister, Cassia, who is an actress.

She takes all of his finished work home with her and photographs it, then posts it on a Tumblr blog site she created for his art, “Freelinkslicka.” (When he graffitied on the streets, his tag was “Link” and his crew was “City Slickaz.” Some of his artwork also says “Sixers,” since his crew referred to the Lower East Side as “the sixth borough.”) As an artist, it’s important for him to have his work out there and for it to be seen.

His mother then sends the items on to the girlfriends or mothers of the inmates or guards who have ordered them, or to Jairo’s friends and others.

In one impressive work, using bleach, which prisoners have access to for their laundry, he bleached out a pair of Vans-style blue sneakers, leaving a blue “C” on the top of one and an “S” on the other — for “City Slickaz” — while creating a New York skyline along the shoes’ sides. (His mom liked these so much, she kept them for herself.)

jairo, shoes
A pair of blue Vans-style sneakers that Jairo Pastoressa customized with bleach.


She also brings him copies of photos he shot of subway trains and city scenes, which he then uses as backdrops for his artwork. None of the T-shirts are washable, though, since they weren’t done with fabric paint, so they’re better as art pieces.

However, some of his fellow inmates and guards resent Jairo’s artistic abilities, according to Anna.

“They’re jealous — they’re pissed!” she said. This can sometimes just lead to more abuse.

Again, she said, there is support for Jairo in the community where he grew up. He attended St. Brigid’s School, LaSalle Academy and SUNY New Paltz, studying visual art, though didn’t graduate. A community petition calling for his release previously garnered 450 signatures.

jairo, sixers
A collage by Pastoressa, with his “Link Sixers” tag superimposed on a photo of a subway train. He used toothpaste as glue.





At the time of his arrest, he had been hoping to teach silkscreening at the Lower Eastside Girls Club.

Lyn Pentecost, the Girls Club’s executive director, wrote a letter to the presiding justice of the State Supreme Court Criminal Division on Jairo’s behalf more than four years ago. Three days after The Villager contacted her for this article, she wrote another letter to the court on Feb. 11:

“I have known Jairo Pastoressa since he was a young boy and watched him grow up in our community,” Pentecost wrote the court. “He has always been a model youth — sweet, talented and respectful from grammar school through high school.

“As he developed his career as an artist, he has always gladly donated his time and talents to a wide range of community endeavors. This has included assisting my organization, the Lower Eastside Girls Club, in a variety of mural painting projects.

“From what I have learned through my community sources, Jairo Pastoressa was threatened on numerous occasions and ultimately feared for his life,” she wrote, in apparent reference to the slain Jusko. “It is my hope that you will take his history of community service and the testimony of people like me who have known him for years into account as you consider this case.

“Please note, I wrote a similar letter in October 2011 and am disturbed to learn that there has been no action on this case.”

Pentecost told The Villager: “While there is no doubt that Jairo was involved in some sort of crime — the facts of which have never been heard in a court of law — it is now compounded by the crime of our government denying him his civil and human rights. This is an important story and I hope you will continue to follow it.”

Another piece for his sister, Cassia.
Another piece for his sister, Cassia.


According to Anna, earlier this month, the prosecution wanted to call as a witness the woman who Jairo and Jusko were allegedly feuding over, but she was in Europe. According to her, that was the reason for the latest delay in the case.

Anna also recently dumped the defense lawyer and has retained a new one, who asked the judge for a six-month delay so he could get up to speed on the case. However, the judge — now apparently eager to move things along — opposed the delay. The new attorney was also planning an effort to try to bail out Pastoressa. That attorney, an older man, however, subsequently got sick and dropped the case, and Anna has now retained a female attorney, who seems very good, she said.

A new court date has been set for April 20.

A "CS" design for City Slickaz, his graffiti crew.
A “CS” design for City Slickaz, his graffiti crew.


Patrick Muncie, a spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney, said, “While this case has required multiple extended adjournments — largely not in the People’s control — none are related to the strength of the evidence.”

According to a D.A. source, in addition to Jairo’s having been held at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center for several months after his arrest, the defense attorney, in mid-2014, alerted the court that he intended to present a “psychiatric defense.” Preparations were made for interviews of Jairo by psychiatric experts, but then the defense “abruptly withdrew its psych notice” in late 2015.

In addition, a delay of the better part of a year occurred when the first judge on the case was appointed to a federal post, and time then had to be allowed for the new judge to familiarize himself with the case.

At the most recent court date, the prosecution reportedly said it was ready to go to trial, but, as mentioned above, the new defense attorney asked for a six-month adjournment.

The source said that just switching defense lawyers is not a significant enough change to warrant a new bail hearing.

But Jairo’s mother was having none of the excuses.

“I am appalled to hear all of that,” she said, told of the D.A.’s response. “The psychiatric defense, that was being used — what? — [the full time] for five-and-a-half years? Nonsense! They just like to blame one another. They are just a bunch of lazy people, including the judge.

“If he has to be sentenced, sentence him. If he’s innocent, let him out,” she declared. “To hold someone that long, it’s unconstitutional. The fact that you are delaying the trial, you are exposing people to a very bad environment [in jail at Rikers].”

However, unlike other offenses, New York’s criminal code actually does not mandate a speedy trial when it comes to murder.

“My son is not a murderer,” Anna reiterated. “My son acted in self-defense. He didn’t purposely kill the guy.

“My son is a very reserved person. He’s the type of person who was at home, doing his work. He didn’t go to parties, he didn’t go to bars and clubs. He doesn’t like to be in crowds, exposed. He doesn’t like confusion. When the chaos came to his door, he had to defend himself, he had no choice. Besides, this guy was bigger than him. All this madness came to him.”

His mother said she doesn’t feel that Jairo, who is a private person, would be up for a jailhouse interview right now.

The victim, Christopher Jusko, grew up in Stuyvesant Town but was living in Bushwick at the time of his death. The Villager was not able to reach Jusko’s family members for comment by press time.