A Bronx jury delivered "Justice for Junior" on Friday, handing down guilty verdicts for the five men who fatally stabbed 15-year-old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz nearly a year ago.
Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago, Elvin Garcia, Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, Jose Muniz and Manuel Rivera were found guilty of first- and second-degree murder, conspiracy and gang assault. They face up to life in prison without parole when they are sentenced on July 16.
Guzman-Feliz, who was affectionately called "Junior," was stabbed and slashed to death after being chased by a group of alleged members of the Los Sures set within the Trinitarios gang on the night of June 20, 2018.
His mother, Leandra Feliz, thanked God for the guilty verdicts. "My son was a good kid. He was only 15 years old. He was doing the best in the school," she said at a news conference outside of the Bronx Supreme Court building.
Chants of "Justice for Junior" and "Justice was served" rent the air outside of the courthouse Friday afternoon.
"I am so happy that justice has been served," said Eileen Mirayes, 56, a friend of Guzman-Feliz’s family who lives around the corner from the courthouse near Yankee Stadium.
The jury reached its verdict after about a day and a half of deliberations. The weekslong trial drew to a close earlier this week, with closing arguments on Monday and Tuesday and jury deliberations beginning Thursday morning. When deliberations resumed on Friday, friends of Guzman-Feliz’s family waited anxiously outside of the courtroom.
Elizabeth DeJesus, 33, had been showing up at the courthouse since the beginning of the trial. She likened the surveillance footage of the attack on Guzman-Feliz to “a horror movie.”
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, speaking outside of the courthouse after the verdicts, said the teen’s death became a symbol against gang violence.
"Junior came to symbolize all of the young people who’ve lost their lives to brutal gang violence," Clark said. "I stand here with the family, and we look forward to ending violence in the Bronx for days to come."
On the night Guzman-Feliz was killed, the teen had left his house to give a friend $5, but he never made it back home after running into a pack of 14 men who were out searching for members of a rival gang to attack, according to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. The group, mistaking Guzman-Feliz for a member of the rival Trinitarios faction called Sunset, chased the teen through the streets.
Guzman-Feliz tried to take refuge in a bodega on 183rd Street at Bathgate Avenue, but the suspects caught up to him. They dragged him out onto the sidewalk and stabbed him repeatedly with knives and a machete, chilling 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.
Police said the attack on the teen, who was a member of the NYPD’s Explorers Program and dreamed of becoming a detective, was a case of mistaken identity.
The brutal nature of the crime outraged the Belmont community as well as high-ranking NYPD officials, who vowed to deliver "Justice for Junior." The phrase became a rallying cry for Guzman-Feliz’s family and friends, who were devastated by the loss.
The NYPD promised to leave "no stone unturned" in the investigation, and by fall 2018 police had rounded up 14 suspects. Eight other defendants, accused of being involved in the attack but not actually stabbing Guzman-Feliz, are expected to face a separate trial. Another suspect, Kevin Alvarez, pleaded guilty in the case and testified for the prosecution in trial of the five found guilty on Friday.