Judge issues warning in the Junior murder case; lawyer introduces ‘hoodie’ defense

Posted: 8:17 PM, Apr 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-02 20:38:48-04

NEW YORK — Judge Robert Neary issued a warning to courtroom spectators Tuesday at the pre-trial hearing of five suspects charged with the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz last June.

He referenced some disruptions last week, including one where the teen’s father cursed a suspect on his way out of court.

“If that continues, you’re going to be banned from coming into the courtroom,” Judge Neary said to all the spectators. As it turned out, Tuesday’s hearing — which was delayed — remained calm.

When the testimony finally started, Detective Francis Orlando from the NYPD Bronx Homicide Squad took the stand as the final prosecution witness in what’s called a “Rodriguez” hearing.

The Rodriguez hearing allows the judge to gauge how familiar a witness is with a suspect, when making an identification.

Detective Orlando talked about meeting the witness who had walked into the 48th Precinct in the early hours of Saturday, June 23, 2018 — two and a half days after Junior was fatally stabbed.

That person, known as Witness A, made identifications of the people allegedly involved in the chase and murder of Junior outside a bodega on East 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue.

Orlando met Witness A on June 26 and also had more conversations with him on June 28.

He talked about Witness A going to the Facebook page for suspect Jose Muniz, finding a photo with the caption “Canelito OG.”

Witness A called Muniz “the machete guy” and said he knew him as a member of the Sure’ set of the Trinitarios gang, somebody he would see two or three times a month, “mostly at St. James Park and Kingsbridge and Morris Avenues,” according to the detective.

Witness A said he knew suspect Manuel Rivera since 2015 “and knew him from school and saw him about two or three times a week,” according to the detective’s testimony.

Witness A could not provide a name for the suspect seen on surveillance with a black scarf on his face, although the witness said he had met the suspect that day at the apartment where the Sure’ leader lived.

Police said this suspect was Elvin Garcia, who had small knife wounds on his hand. Garcia blamed the wounds on a fight in Washington Heights.

Witness A also didn’t know the name of the person who stabbed Junior in the neck but later told police he rode with this suspect in a car back to the Sure’ leader’s apartment, after the attack.

Detectives said this suspect was Jonaiki Martinez Estrella.

One of the defense lawyers challenged Detective Orlando on the identification of her client, Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago.

Witness A had told cops he knew Santiago as “Welfanito” and had pulled Santiago’s photo from a Facebook page.

Witness A had told police “Welfanito” was wearing a dark hoodie during the attack on Junior.

“You cannot see that person’s face, is that accurate?” the defense attorney asked the detective.

The prosecutor objected.

When the defense attorney asked the detective again, Orlando responded “I believe there is one video where you can partially make out his face.”

Defense attorneys for the five suspects charged with murder in the first degree have been very upset with the massive, pre-trial publicity — and they sought to prevent photographers from taking pictures of the defendants before the hearing Tuesday.

But the judge allowed photographers to get images of the suspects Tuesday for a couple of minutes.

In one picture, defendant Manuel Rivera, sitting in the middle of the defense table, bows his head and appears to have his hands clasped in prayer.

The pre-trial hearing resumes Thursday afternoon, with defense attorneys having a few items they want to discuss with the judge.