A New York man accused of a homophobic murder is claiming mid-trial that he is also gay.

The defendant Anthony Fortunato, 21, was outed by his lawyer Gerald J. Di Chiara in court on Monday.

Mr Di Chiara claims that Fortunato has been meeting men for sex on the internet since he was seventeen and said that his turmoil over coming out had in fact added to the defendant’s unstable state of mind and a previous suicide attempt.

Fortunato is accused of luring Micheal J. Sandy, 29, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to a deserted beach on 8 October 2006 with the intention of robbing him.

He then allegedly took part in an attack that led to Mr Sandy’s death as he fled and was hit by a car on the Belt Parkway.

Mr Sandy was contacted via the online chat room Brooklyn Man 4 Man by Fortunato.

The prosecution lawyer Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi claims that Fortunato targeted Mr Sandy because of his sexual orientation and had boasted to his friends about ripping off another gay man.

Judge Konviser-Levine has said that she does not see the relevance of the defendant’s sexuality.

However, if the defence is able to prove that the crimes were not in fact driven by hatred this could mean a reduction in Fortunato’s sentence.

Two other young men, John Fox and Ilye Shurov, will be also tried in relation to the case and a third, Gary Timmins, is helping police with enquiries.