After a weeks-long trial filled with emotional testimonies, chilling revelations and graphic photos, the jury reached a verdict in the Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz murder trial.
All five defendants were found guilty of murder in first and second degree, as well as conspiracy and gang assault charges.
The first verdict was announced against Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, who delivered the fatal blow with a kitchen knife that ultimately killed Guzman a year ago next week.
Fellow defendant Jose Muniz was heard saying “Trinitarios to the day I die” as he left the courtroom following the guilty verdicts. All five defendants — Antonio Santigo, Elvin Garcia, Manuel Rivera, Estrella and Muniz — were members of the Trinitarios gang.
The convicted killers will be sentenced Tuesday, July 16. There are nine others charged in Guzman’s murder that are still awaiting trial.
The family of Junior had mixed emotions after the verdicts were announced, but Guzman’s brother said ultimately, “justice was served.”
“It was a terrible year, it felt like 10 years. But at the end, it has a happy ending,” said Manny Ortiz. “I saw a smile on my mother’s face … really, really excited.”
Junior’s mother said that Friday’s verdict will sends a message to all those who would do something similar to what happened to her son.
“See what happens with those killers,” said Leandra Feliz. “If they continue the violence in the city, they’re going to get the same thing.”
“Junior came to symbolize all of the young people who have lost their lives to brutal gang violence,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark. “Today’s verdict fortifies the Bronx community’s stand against violence
“Today Junior’s family, and in fact our entire city, has received a measure of justice,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz said in a statement. “Today’s verdicts will not bring Junior back. Nothing can. But these verdicts will send a messageto those who would commitacts of senseless violenc, and help us move forward and bring closure to this awful chapter in our borough’s history.”
The jury, comprised of 11 women and one man, reached the verdict Friday after going into deliberations Thursday.
Prior to deliberations starting, the judge told the jury they could deliberate over the five defendants on trial separately and return individual verdicts or wait to return the verdicts of all five at once. It is unclear what the jury decided on.
The case grabbed the attention of New Yorkers and across the nation, given that the brutal machete killing of the 15-year-old boy that took place inside a Bronx bodega in the summer of 2018 was captured on surveillance.
Video showed the boy being dragged outside the bodega and set upon by a gang of men who hacked at him as he struggled to defend himself. Ultimately, he was slashed in the neck and died after running to a hospital three blocks away.
Investigators say the group mistook Guzman-Feliz, who was not affiliated with any gang, for a member of the rival fraction of the Trinitarios gang. In total, more than a dozen suspects have been arrested in connection to the killing. Nine others charged in the killing are awaiting trial.
In opening statements, prosecutors described the teen’s killing as a calculated and planned murder by the five suspects. However, four defense attorneys contested this notion, describing during opening statements that most of Guzman-Feliz’s wounds as superficial and said it was the one cut to the throat that killed him. The defense attorney for the man who allegedly dealt that throat cut took offense at that.
Following the lengthy opening statements from the prosecution and defense attorneys for the five suspected gang members, the first of 14 to stand trial, the first witness took the stand. She said she watched the attack from an apartment window and ran downstairs to try to help. She described, in heartbreaking detail, how Guzman-Feliz looked up at her after the attack and motioned her to call 911.
He only said that one word — “water,” she testified.
Mere days after the trial kicked off startling never-before-seen footage of the savage machete attack was presented by prosecutors.
The trial also included shocking revelations, including when it was learned that the self-proclaimed gang member who testified against the other five alleged Trinitarios members on trial could get off because of his testimony.
Kevin Alvarez, who pleaded guilty a weeks ago, took the stand to testify on behalf of the prosecution.
The defense also tried to discredit Guzman-Feliz alleging he was in a gang photo — a notion a detective who took the stand denied.
Closing arguments proved to be just as emotional, as some jury members shed tears. Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dolan used her time to go into detail about what the five defendants are accused of doing — trapping Guzman at the Bronx bodega and hacking him to death with a machete.
She used her summation to show the jury the boy’s final moments repeatedly, slowing it down to show each defendant’s actions. The ADA’s argument also included graphic autopsy photos — including the slit on Junior’s neck the medical examiner says killed him.
“This 15-year-old boy, moments before death, fought like hell to get away,” said Dolan.
Meanwhile, during closing arguments the defense told jurors that the prosecution had failed to prove the suspects wanted to kill Junior, arguing testimony from star witnesses showed the men “intended to hurt Junior, not kill him.”
Guzman-Feliz had been part of the NYPD’s Explorers program, a group for youths interested in a law enforcement career. The New York City Police Foundation announced it planned to set up a scholarship in his name.
Since the violent attack, the community’s outpouring of love and support has been seen in a mural. Guzman-Feliz’s memory has also been honored through the renaming of a street and a summer camp at a state park, as well as prompting the “Safe Haven Bodega” program in the city.