THE BRONX (PIX11)— As the jury patiently heard lawyers dissect the notorious infighting of a Dominican Republic gang on Friday, their focus shifted when a grieving mom entered the Bronx courtroom.
Leandra Feliz, the mother of 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, took her seat in the second row behind the prosecution when the jury, almost in unison, shifted their gaze toward the woman. Feliz was audibly upset while lawyers recounted painful memories of her son’s horrific murder four years ago.
“We have to stop the violence and crime in New York City,” she said after opening arguments in the “Justice for Junior” trial at the Bronx Hall of Justice.
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 had tried to seek shelter at a nearby bodega when he was dragged out onto the street and stabbed with a knife and machete in a case of mistaken identity, authorities said.
Five members of the gang have already been convicted of the attack. After several delays, Diego Suero and Frederick Then are on trial for murder. Suero, the alleged leader of the Los Sures set of the Trinitarios gang, is accused of giving the order to hunt down rivals before the teen’s death. Then is the alleged No. 2 leader in the Los Sures set.
During opening arguments, prosecutors said several members of the Trinitarios gathered at Suero’s home, where he directed the crew to execute the boy. Fourteen men, six of whom were armed with knives and a machete, piled into four cars and headed to Tremont looking for Junior, said Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dolan.
“These men gave the order to kill,” Dolan said.
Then went along for the ride and watched what his “soldiers were ordered to do” and called Suero as Junior was bleeding to death, said the prosecutor.
“He (Junior) was alone, unarmed, outmanned,” Dolan added. “He was attacked with knives and machete, and when Junior tried to leave they plunged a knife into the side of his neck.”
Suero’s lawyer, Suzanne McElwreath, asked the jury to assess the credibility of the state’s cooperating witnesses, who were members of the Los Trinitarios when they made plea deals in exchange for testifying.
“Have the courage to keep an open mind,” McElwreath said. “It’s easy to get caught up on the emotions, in the outrage.”
The defense argues neither Suero nor Then are responsible for the fatal blow to Junior’s neck. Then’s lawyer, Larry Sheehan, told the jury the gang was supposed to just beat up Junior — not kill him.
“We refute there was an order to kill,” Sheehan said.
The lawyer said prosecutors made a “deal with the devil” when they turned former gang members Kevin Alvarez and Michael Reyes into key witnesses. Alvarez and Reyes were the first two in the bodega before Alvarez dragged Junior out of the store and the crew began beating the boy.
During the assault, Jonaiki Martin Estrella fatally stabbed Junior, Sheehan said. Estrella, a Trinitarios gang member, was previously convicted of slicing Junior’s jugular vein.
“But for Alvarez and Reyes, Junior would be alive,” Sheehan said.