THE BRONX — The buzz in the Bronx courthouse Friday by people connected to the “Junior” case was that murder defendant Elvin Garcia got sick.
He is one of five men accused of fatally stabbing 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz last June.
A DNA expert had testified on Thursday that Garcia’s blood was found in the rear seat of a getaway car, with Junior’s blood discovered on a back door of the same vehicle, a 2011 white Acura.
But Judge Robert Neary didn’t reveal too much, when he told the jury at noon, “Let the record reflect the defendants are not produced. My understanding is two of the defendants are unavailable to come today for various reasons, one because of health.”
And with that, Day 4 in the Junior trial was canceled, with testimony expected to resume next Tuesday.
PIX11 later learned Garcia did indeed have some kind of medical issue and had not been medically cleared to come to court.
The highly anticipated trial began this past Monday, with both sides presenting opening statements.
Prosecutor Morgan Dolan told the jury the panicked teen was pursued by “a pack of not kids, but a pack of men.”
She revealed that the blade used to stab Junior in the neck, near the end of a 20-second attack, “was 4 ½ inches in depth, cutting his jugular vein.”
Defense attorneys representing four of the defendants then told the jury their clients did not inflict any wound that caused Junior’s death.
A fifth defendant, Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, 24, has been accused of plunging a knife into Junior’s neck near the end of the assault. It was the wound that killed the teen.
Martinez Estrella’s DNA was not recovered on any of the knives sent to the Medical Examiner’s lab by police, but prosecutors are poised to use witnesses who will place him in the mob that stabbed Junior.
The savagery of the attack on Junior was captured on multiple surveillance cameras and cellphones near the Cruz & Chiky bodega at East 183 Street and Bathgate Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx.
The first witness in the case, a 21-year-old mom who saw the attack from her apartment, testified she saw Jose Muniz leading the charge.
Muniz was alleged to be hitting Junior with a machete, but his defense lawyer told the jury Monday his client was just using the flat part of the machete, trying to limit any injury to Junior.
Lawyer Martin Goldberg acknowledged Muniz was a member of the Trinitarios gang and was on the scene but said Muniz was just trying to look like he was doing what the gang leader expected.
“This boy is not a killer,” Goldberg said of the 22-year-old Muniz, “because he didn’t intend to cause his death.”
The woman who watched from the apartment told the jury she ran down to the corner, after the gang fled in four getaway vehicles.
A mortally wounded Junior had already walked a block to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he collapsed in front of the security booth.
One of the young mom’s neighbors captured the horrific scene on cellphone footage.
“It shows him bleeding out on the floor,” the witness testified. “He was moving a bit, holding his neck.”
“We were trying to keep him awake by speaking to him, and he asked us for water.”
“His last words were ‘water, water,’” the woman said.
Most of Day 2 in the trial was spent introducing surveillance footage from various outside cameras near East 183rd Street, between Bathgate Avenue and Third Avenue.
Some of the camera files have not been seen by the public before.
Junior’s mother, Leandra Feliz, sat with her hand over her mouth, bracing for the point when her son would be dragged to the sidewalk — and his deadly fate.
She “nearly collapsed” at one point, according to the mother’s friend, Jennifer.
When the infamous surveillance footage from inside the bodega was played for the jury late Thursday afternoon, Junior’s mother left before it was shown in court.
“It’s torture, it’s too much,” she later told reporters.
PIX11 saw Feliz leaning against a wall in the court vestibule, while multiple camera angles were played for the jury, showing Junior dashing into the bodega and jumping over the counter.
He tries to hide from the angry pack of men who storm into the store, but they eventually drag the teen out to the sidewalk.
One piece of surveillance showed a fairly close shot of Junior slumping over the bodega counter, after he had been mortally wounded, and stumbled back into the bodega seeking help.
He was quickly turned away.
DNA testimony dominated the day Thursday, with criminalist Matthew Benintendo telling the jury more than 100 items of evidence were sent to his lab at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
Among the items he swabbed, hoping to find useful DNA evidence on them, were knives, a cross, a towel and material from two different getaway cars.
Benintendo said he received DNA swabs from each of 14 suspects in the Junior murder.
Nine of the men will go on trial at a later date.
In court, Benintendo testified bloodstains retrieved from two cars had a DNA match to Garcia.
The criminalist also had a DNA profile for the victim, Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz.
When asked about blood found on the interior, rear passenger door of a 2011 Acura, Benintendo testified, “The DNA profiles are a match,” meaning Junior’s blood was found on the rear inside door.
Before the trial was canceled Friday at noon, Detective Francis Orlando from Bronx Homicide was supposed to resume his appearance on the witness stand.
Orlando had introduced the videos showing Junior being dragged inside the bodega.
We will have to wait until Tuesday to see what happens next.