THE BRONX (PIX11) — As the jury in the Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz murder case beings its deliberations Thursday, its challenge will be separating the emotions from the evidence, according to a prominent criminal defense lawyer.
The panel did not reach a verdict Thursday and will continue deliberations Friday.
Defendants Diego Suero and Frederick Then, alleged leaders of the Los Sures set of the Trinitarios gang, are charged with murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, and gang assault. Suero, the boss, allegedly ordered the hit that killed Junior four years ago in the Bronx.
The top charge is murder, which means the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the two intended to kill the boy when Suero allegedly gave the order to hunt rival Sunset gang members. The defense has argued there was never any intent to kill the teen, just rough him up a bit.
“If they just said go beat up this guy, then they’re not guilty of what they’re charged with,” said Adam Konta, senior partner at Konta, Georges, and Buza. P.C. in Manhattan.
“It’s going to take one person to set aside the emotions and hold them (the state) to their burden,” he added. “You usually don’t want lawyers on the jury, but in this case, I would want a couple of lawyers on the jury.”
Then’s lawyer, Larry Sheehan, cited previous gang missions that did not end in death and the medical examiner’s opinion that the stab wounds on Junior’s body were superficial, except for that one blow to the jugular that caused his death.
On June 20, 2018, Junior was slain by a group of Trinitarios gang members at the corner of 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue in Tremont. The teen was dragged out of a bodega and onto the street where he was stabbed with a knife and machete in a case of mistaken identity, authorities said.
Much of the incident was captured on shocking surveillance videos. Putting aside the graphic footage of the boy’s brutal murder, Konta said Suero’s case is more challenging to prove because he was not at the scene, and despite the prosecution showing videos of meetings at his house before and after the attack, the jury will not be able to infer anything from the footage.
Then is at the scene, therefore, it would be tougher to deny he did not know what was going to happen, the lawyer said.
“Suero is most insulated,” Konta said. “They’re asking them to make the inference because they don’t have the evidence to prove it.”
“Being at the scene is tougher,” he added. “It’s hard to say, ‘I had no idea this was going on.’”
In addition to the surveillance videos, the prosecution’s evidence is the testimony of cooperating witnesses Kevin Alvarez and Michael Reyes, who the jury will have to decide if they’re credible. Alvarez has testified there was a “357” kill order in this trial but said the contrary in other proceedings.
Both former gang members received cushy plea deals with the state in exchange for turning on Suero and Then. Alvarez plead guilty to manslaughter and conspiracy and was let off with time served. Reyes, who fled to the Dominican Republic after the incident before turning himself in, didn’t spend a day in jail.
“They got unbelievable deals,” Konta said.
But if either defendant has a shot at being free, their best chances are with a Bronx jury because they tend to be more skeptical of police and prosecutors, Konta said.
“It’s such an ugly case,” he said.
Five gang members were previously convicted in Junior’s death during a separate trial in 2019 and are serving varying prison sentences for their roles in the attack.