A jury is considering the fate of five alleged gang members accused in the brutal stabbing of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, almost a year after the teen’s death sparked community outrage and demands of “Justice for Junior.”
Bronx Supreme Court Judge Robert Neary gave the case to the jury Thursday morning, and deliberations began shortly after. Closing arguments in the case were delivered on Monday and Tuesday.
Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago, Elvin Garcia, Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, Jose Muniz and Manuel Rivera are charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy and gang assault.
Prosecutors needed to prove to the jury that the defendants intended to kill and torture Guzman-Feliz in order to be found guilty of the top murder charge. If convicted, they face life in prison.
Around 12:30 p.m., the jurors asked to hear portions of testimony from two Trinitarios gang members, Michael “Sosa” Reyes and Kevin Alvarez, who agreed to become cooperating witnesses for the prosecution.
During his testimony, Reyes said he and other gang members were ordered to “go after” members of a rival gang: "If you have a gun, you shoot. If you have a knife, you stab, if you have a machete, use the machete. If you don’t have a weapon, use your fists."
Alvarez also testified that he and other gang members were ordered to look for rivals to attack, but said he didn’t expect anyone to get killed that night.
The jurors also asked to re-watch surveillance footage that showed the suspects dragging Guzman-Feliz out of a Bronx bodega before stabbing him repeatedly on the sidewalk.
Deliberations continued into the afternoon after jurors heard the requested testimony and watched the surveillance footage, but no verdicts had been reached before the judge sent them home around 5 p.m.
The jurors were given the option to announce their verdicts for each of the defendants as they arrive at them, or wait until they’ve reached decisions for all five and announce them at the same time. Deliberations are expected to resume around 10 a.m. Friday.
The trial has captured the city’s attention for over a month, as the attorneys for the alleged gang members argued that the group did not set out to kill the 15-year-old boy on the night of June 20, 2018.
The attack on Guzman-Feliz began when a group of 14 men, all believed to be members of the Los Sures gang set within the Trinitarios gang, went out looking for a member of a rival faction of the gang to beat on, police and prosecutors have said. Mistaking Guzman-Feliz for a gang member, the group went after him in the street, officials have said. The teen tried to evade the suspects before attempting to take refuge in a bodega, only to be dragged out onto the sidewalk and stabbed numerous times with knives and a machete, surveillance video of the attack shows.
A knife blow to Guzman-Feliz’s neck severed his jugular vein and caused him to bleed out before he could reach nearby St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
But Guzman-Feliz was not a part of a gang, police said. He was, however, a member of the NYPD Explorers Program who dreamed of becoming a detective.
The video of such a brutal crime perpetrated against a defenseless teenager, which was widely shared on social media, sparked outrage in the Bronx community and garnered national attention from such celebrities as professional basketball player Carmelo Anthony and rapper Cardi B, who used her social media platforms to join the chorus of people demanding justice with the hashtag #JusticeforJunior.
Outraged NYPD brass vowed to deliver on the demands of a heartbroken and shocked community, which actively helped in the investigation by providing numerous tips about the gang’s involvement, Commissioner James O’Neill has said. Police spent the summer and early fall rounding up the 14 suspects they say took part in Guzman-Feliz’s death.
The nine other suspects, accused of being involved in the attack but not actually stabbing Guzman-Feliz, will face a separate trial in September.