THE BRONX, N.Y (PIX11) — The Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court on Thursday vacated the first-degree murder conviction of Jonaiki Martinez-Estrella, the Bronx man who was caught on video inflicting the lethal neck wound that killed 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz in June 2018.
The appellate court ruled Martinez-Estrella must now be re-sentenced under second-degree murder and wrote: “The evidence established that the defendant committed an extremely heinous second-degree murder. However, we vacate the conviction of first-degree murder under Penal Law 125.27 because the evidence did not establish the very specific elements of that crime.”
On Oct. 11, 2019, Judge Robert Neary sentenced Martinez-Estrella to life without parole on the first-degree murder conviction, which involved an element of “torture.” The appellate judges disagreed with that element in the case.
The appellate court decision hinges on the legal definition of first-degree murder, which requires in part that “…the defendant acted in an especially cruel and wanton manner pursuant to a course of conduct intended to inflict and inflicting torture upon the victim prior to the victim’s death.”
In reference to Martinez-Estrella’s fatal stab wound to Guzman-Feliz’s neck, the five-judge appellate panel found “…that blow was a single act rather than a course of conduct. Thus, we find that defendant and his accomplices did not engage in a ‘course of conduct’ involving the intentional infliction of extreme physical pain.”
Steven Feinman, Martinez-Estrella’s attorney, told PIX11 News, “The Appellate Division did what the law required. There was simply no evidence that could have possibly satisfied the elements of first-degree murder on the theory of torture.”
Guzman-Feliz was chased by four cars filled with members of the Trinitarios gang on June 20, 2018. They had mistakenly thought Guzman-Feliz belonged to a rival set of the gang.
The teen tried to hide in a bodega but was dragged out and stabbed on the sidewalk on Bathgate Avenue. He collapsed outside St. Barnabas Hospital and bled to death.
The horrific attack was captured on surveillance video and shared widely on social media at the time of his murder. The viral video sparked the “Justice for Junior” movement.
At least 13 members of the gang have been sentenced, many receiving 25 years to life. Some took plea bargains for a manslaughter conviction.
Leandra Feliz, the mother of Guzman-Feliz, was in shock Thursday after learning of the latest development.
“I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe. This is a nightmare for me. He was over. He killed my son. He killed an innocent kid,” Feliz said.
Feliz said she just wants to make sure the people who killed her son spend the rest of their lives in prison.
“They are gang members. They are criminals. So how come the criminals have more defense than the victims? I lost a child,” Feliz said.
A spokesperson for Bronx District Attorney’s Office told PIX11 News, “The defendant still stands convicted of second-degree intentional murder, for which he was sentenced to 25 years to life, as well as conspiracy and gang assault … We are carefully reviewing the Appellate Division’s decision and considering all of our options.”