Judge has last word in first ‘Junior’ trial and readies for round two

THE BRONX — Judge Robert Neary, acting Supreme Court justice in Bronx County, didn’t make headlines during the six-week trial he presided over in the murder of Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz.

But Neary definitely had the last word as the first case officially ended.

“You are not a real Dominican,” he told 25-year-old Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago, before sentencing the Trinitarios gang member to 25 years to life.

Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago (Photo courtesy Richard Harbus)

The line was a reference to Santiago’s boast when arrested in Paterson, New Jersey on June 24, 2018 that he was “a real Dominican.”

Judge Neary pointed out on Friday that “real Dominicans” work hard, seek an education, and obey the law.

Neary, a graduate of St. John’s University law school who spent 28 years as a Westchester County prosecutor, was meting out sentences to five, convicted killers, members of the Los Sures set of the Trinitarios, after the most “high profile” case of his judicial career.

He’d been appointed to the Court of Claims by former Governor George Pataki in 2006, before Neary was tapped to be an acting Supreme Court justice in Westchester County. He was later moved to the Bronx.

He’s known as a law-and-order type judge, a justice who’s no nonsense.

The appellate division once reversed a carjacking conviction that came out of Judge Neary’s courtroom, according to the New York Law Journal, because of comments the judge made to a defense attorney in front of a jury.

“Would you please behave like a professional, please, and not like a clown,” Neary had said.

Judge Robert Neary (Photo courtesy Richard Harbus)

There were no comments like that during the “Junior” trial, just efforts to move the proceedings along. That proved to be a difficult task.

The defendants were all moved separately to the courtroom by security teams from jail cells within the Bronx County Hall of Justice. Testimony sometimes didn’t start until almost noon because the five men were being transported from different jails, some as far away as Suffolk County and even Albany.

Defendant Jose Muniz has a seizure disorder, and that caused some cancellations once or twice during the days of testimony.

Judge Neary didn’t tolerate disruptive outbursts, even if they came from the teen victim’s family.

Near the end of the trial, Junior’s mother —Leandra Feliz—was escorted out by court officers after yelling loudly during the cross-examination of star witness Michael “Sosa” Reyes.

She and Junior’s father watched the final testimony, closing arguments, and even the verdict, on a monitor in a separate, sixth floor courtroom.

The parents returned to Judge Neary’s courtroom this past Friday, Oct. 11, to make victim impact statements. They kept their composure.

The judge delivered the most severe sentence to Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, who plunged a knife into Junior’s neck near the end of the 20-second gang assault. A witness had said Estrella bragged in a getaway car that the victim “wouldn’t eat for a good long time” because he got him in the neck.

Judge Neary told Estrella certain words kept coming to mind about the attack: senseless, savage, “but most of all, cowardly.”

He reminded the court that Estella and his cohorts had “chased down and slaughtered a 15-year-old, defenseless boy” so he could “be a big shot in a gang.”

The judge pointed out Estrella had a prior criminal record and called him Junior’s “executioner” before giving him the most punishing of sentences, short of death. New York State doesn’t have a death penalty on the books. Estrella received life without parole.

When the judge faced Jose Muniz, known as “machete man,” Neary told Muniz he was troubled by the killer’s chant on the day of the June 14 guilty verdicts.

“Trinitarios to the death,” Muniz had yelled out.

Judge Neary told him “you threw your life away” at the age of 21.

Muniz had apologized to Junior’s family and expressed sorrow to his own mother and young son.

Judge Neary sentenced Muniz to 25 years to life, the punishment he also gave to Elvin Garcia and Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago.

Manuel Rivera, who was 18 when the attack took place outside a Bronx bodega, received a punishment of 23 years to life.

Judge Neary now gets set for the second phase of the Junior case.

Pre-trial hearings are scheduled to start Oct. 22 for Diego Suero and Frederick Then, the reputed leaders of the Los Sures set.

They’re accused of giving the orders to go after a rival in the Sunset division of the Trinitarios gang.

On Friday, Muniz said the Junior stabbing was in retaliation for a friend who got shot two night’s before the teen’s murder, Muniz claiming Junior was on the scene when the shooting happened.

The NYPD said Junior was a victim of “mistaken identity.”

Junior’s mother spoke out after the sentencing.

“My son was not a gang member,” she said. “He was a good kid.”

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