THE BRONX — Legal fireworks exploded at the Junior trial Thursday, when defense attorney Toni Messina cross-examined an NYPD detective about the slain teen’s alleged ties to a “baby” division of the Trinitarios gang — and the prosecution objected strenuously.
Speaking of the Trinitarios, Messina stated to Detective Francis Orlando of Bronx Homicide, “That group has a ‘Baby Sunset’ part to it that includes kids as young as 14 and 15 years old.”
The detective had earlier acknowledged, under cross-examination, that certain “sets” of the gang hung out on specific streets in the Bronx and the Sunsets were affiliated with Adams Place.
Messina asked the detective if Lesandro “Junior” Guzman Feliz was on his way to Adams Place, shortly before the 15-year-old was chased and fatally stabbed outside a corner bodega in June 2018 near East 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue..
The detective responded, “Yes.”
Messina continued a bit later, “There are photos of the Baby Sunset group available on downloads.”
Then, prosecutor Morgan Dolan objected more forcefully when Messina asked the detective, “Did you see photos of Junior actually giving gang signs?”
The jury was sent to lunch, and Judge Robert Neary held a hearing about the line of questioning, outside the jury’s presence.
“What is the relevancy of gang affiliation in this case?” prosecutor Dolan asked. “The character of the deceased is not relevant to this case.”
Defense attorney Messina responded, “They want to stop us at the door … because it portrays the decedent in a much different light.”
Referring back to an earlier line of questioning, where Detective Orlando acknowledged he’d investigated whether Junior was the victim of a gang retaliation for a shooting a night earlier, Messina continued, “They were never intending to kill this person (meaning Junior). It was a ‘tit for tat’ kind of thing. That’s our defense.”
Prosecutor Dolan then responded, “The perception of Junior outside these four walls is frankly not relevant. The character of the victim, unless it goes to justification, is not relevant in a murder case.”
Junior’s parents were not in the courtroom during the cross-examination, continued after lunch Thursday.
After the lunch break, Judge Neary ruled the defense could ask questions pertaining to the suspects having a “perception” that Junior was part of a rival set, on the night the teen was killed, but “evidence the victim was actually in a gang is inadmissible at this point.”
He said about Detective Orlando, “With this witness, I’m not going to allow any continued questioning about alleged gang affiliation. This is not the appropriate witness to try to elicit that from.”
Yet when defense attorney Kyle Watters got his turn later in the afternoon, he showed an exhibit marked Defense Exhibit C, which was first introduced by defense lawyer Toni Messina.
The photo shows a group of teens and young men, some making hand signals. The picture had been downloaded from one of the suspect’s phones and has a graphic at the bottom slugging the picture Sunset gunset.
Watters asked the detective, “If you look at the photo in the back, the person in the black shirt with his arm extended over his head, do you know if that is Junior Guzman?”
Detective Orlando responded forcefully, “That is not Junior Guzman.”
WATCH — Mary Murphy reports on the cross-examination on Facebook Live: