Five Gang Members Convicted of Murder in Stabbing Death of Innocent 15-Year-Old Lesandro ‘Junior’ Guzman-Feliz in the Bronx

Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, who went by the nickname Junior, was a member of the Police Department’s Law Enforcement Explorers program before he was killed last year.
Credit: New York Police Department

Members of the Trinitarios gang were hunting for enemies in the Bronx last summer when they found a 15-year-old boy on his phone and walking alone.

Mistaking him for a member of a rival set, the gang chased the boy, Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, for blocks in the Belmont section of the Bronx, prosecutors said. The desperate teenager tried to hide inside of a bodega, but the gang members dragged him from the store and stabbed him to death as security cameras recorded the gruesome scene.

Nearly a year after Lesandro was killed, a jury found five of the men guilty of murder and related charges on Friday, capping five weeks of testimony that provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Trinitarios, a highly organized and brutally violent Dominican gang.

The jury of 11 women and a man took only two days to decide the fates of the defendants — Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, 25, Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago, 25, Jose Muniz, 23, Manuel Rivera, 19, and Elvin Garcia, 25.

The panel found all five guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, second-degree conspiracy and second-degree gang assault. They face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole on the murder conviction. Eight others are awaiting trial.

After the verdict, Mr. Muniz showed no remorse and shouted, “Popote, hasta la muerte!” slang for Trinitarios “until death.”

The murder of Lesandro rattled the city, prompting outrage on social media and calls for justice from elected officials and celebrities, including the rapper Cardi B and the Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia. New Yorkers flooded investigators with tips. Hundreds attended his funeral last summer.

“Junior came to symbolize all of the young people who have lost their lives to brutal gang violence,” the Bronx district attorney, Darcel D. Clark, said. “Today’s verdict fortifies the Bronx community’s stand against violence.”

Lesandro’s mother, Leandra Feliz said, “I’m not going to have my son back, but those killers, those murderers, they’re not going to be outside killing another kid.”

The murder of Lesandro, who went by the nickname Junior, was well documented on videotape from security cameras and the cellphones of witnesses, providing prosecutors with hard proof to support their case.

But some of the most powerful evidence came from two gang members involved in the attack who testified for the prosecution in return for lenient sentences: Kevin Alvarez, 20, and Michael Reyes, 20.

Mr. Alvarez and Mr. Reyes described how their subsets of the Trinitarios terrorized rivals, including a Trinitarios splinter group called Sunset. They said their subsets, called Los Sures and Bad Boys, abided by a strict code of conduct. Members of Los Sures took orders from a leader named Diego Suero, whom they called “Santa Claus.”

It was Mr. Suero who had sent them out on June 20, 2018, armed with machetes and knives, to search for members of Sunset to attack, the two cooperating witnesses said. Mr. Suero’s trial is expected to start soon.

That order came during a bloody feud within the Trinitarios that had pitted Sunset, which is based in Brooklyn, against Mr. Suero’s two Bronx sets, the witnesses said. At least 10 people had been injured in June in a series of street battles.

Mr. Reyes said the conflict started when two Sunset members joined the Bad Boys, angering a Sunset member who had gone to prison for a crime the two members had committed.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Jan Ransom