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Justice for ‘Junior’: Where the Lesandro Guzman-Feliz murder case stands now

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of five suspected gang members charged in Lesandro Guzman-Feliz's murder.

Lesandro

Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz was dragged out of a Belmont bodega and fatally stabbed on June 20, 2018, police said. Photo Credit: NYPD via Twitter

The gang-related killing of 15-year-old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz last year sent shock waves through his Bronx community, as friends and family mourned the loss of a “sweet kid” who had dreamed of becoming a police detective.

The NYPD has arrested 14 suspects, living up to its promise of leaving “no stone unturned” in the investigation into the slaying of Guzman-Feliz, who was affectionately called “Junior.”

Jury selection in the trial of five of the suspects began on Monday. The rest are scheduled for a May 2 court appearance in the case.

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill has credited the arrests to the public's "unrivaled help" and an "outpouring of nonstop assistance" in the case. 

Read on to learn more about Guzman-Feliz and the aftermath of his death.

The attack on Guzman-Feliz was apparently a case of mistaken identity

On June 20, surveillance video captured several men dragging Guzman-Feliz out of a bodega on East 183rd Street in the Belmont section of the Bronx and repeatedly stabbing him in the neck and body with knives and a machete, police said.

After the suspects fled, Guzman-Feliz managed to run to nearby St. Barnabas Hospital, where he collapsed at the entrance and died. The city medical examiner's office said he died of a stab wound to the neck and ruled his death a homicide.

Police believe the killing was related to intra-gang violence and that Guzman-Feliz was mistakenly targeted. The teen had left his house to give someone $5 and encountered the suspects on his way back home, NYPD officials said.

The suspects, thinking the teen was a member of a rival faction of their gang, chased Guzman-Feliz into the bodega and then dragged him out onto the sidewalk before stabbing and slashing him, according to police. 

The suspects and where the case stands now

Guzman-Feliz’s death quickly caught the attention of high-ranking NYPD officials, including Chief of Department Terence Monahan, who called it “among the most brutal crimes” he’d ever seen. Investigators vowed to root out every person involved and hold them accountable.

Three days after the slaying, the first suspects were arrested. Of the 14 men who are charged, five are accused of fatally stabbing Guzman-Feliz. The other nine suspects are accused of being involved in the deadly crime.

Here are the 14 suspects and the charges against them:

  • Manuel Rivera, 18, of the Bronx: Charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago, 24, of the Bronx: Charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Elvin Garcia, 23, of Manhattan: Charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, 24, of Freeport: Charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Diego Suero, 29, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Jose Muniz, 21, of the Bronx: Charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Frederick Then, 20, of Reading, Pennsylvania: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, gang assault, conspiracy and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Ronald Urena, 29, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, gang assault, conspiracy and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Luis A. Cabrera Santos, 25, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Danilo Payamps Pacheco, 21, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Gabriel Ramirez Concepcion, 26, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Jose Taverez, 21, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Danel Fernandez, 21, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
  • Kevin Alvarez, 19, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.

Suspected members of the Trinitarios gang

The suspects are purported members of the "Los Sures" set of the Trinitarios street gang, according to the NYPD. 

On the night of Guzman-Feliz's death, the group gathered at Suero's Boston Road home and planned to attack another set of Trinitarios, called "Sunset," police said. Suero is the suspected leader of "Los Sures," according to Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark.

The suspects piled into four cars and drove to the territory of the rival gang, came upon Guzman-Feliz and chased him into the bodega, Clark said.

After the stabbing, the suspects went back to Suero’s home to hide their weapons and help Garcia, whose hand was cut during the attack, according to Clark.

The district attorney also dispelled previous published reports that claimed Guzman-Feliz was mistakenly targeted because of a sex tape with a girl connected with one of the suspects. 

"As far as we know, at this time, there was no relation to any sex tape to this particular case," Clark said. "That was said on social media but that has not been the information that we have in our case."

Shea has said the Trinitarios were known to the department before Guzman-Feliz’s death. Since then, police have arrested at least 79 purported Trinitarios members across the city, mostly on felony charges, according to Shea.

"This was one significant case involving Trinitarios, but we’re going to continue to target not just the Trinitarios but any street gang that is involved in violence in New York City," Shea added.

Guzman-Feliz’s family demands justice

The heartbroken parents of Guzman-Feliz have publicly demanded justice on several occasions since their son’s death.

After 12 of the suspects pleaded not guilty, Leandra Feliz stood outside of the courthouse and thanked the public for their support.

"And I hope you continue to come and to support me, me and my son," she said. "Please, don’t leave me alone. I need help and support from everybody."

Feliz said it was important for her to attend the court appearance.

"They [killed] a baby. They [killed] a 15 year old [boy]," she said. "They did not kill a man, a gang member or nothing."

Ahead of Guzman-Feliz’s wake, the teen's father, Elisandro Guzman, said he considered his son a best friend. “My heart is broken,” he added.

The NYPD connection

Before his death, Guzman-Feliz had aspired to become a police detective and was a member of the NYPD’s Explorers program, an organization that aims to teach teens and young adults the importance of respect, self-discipline and furthering their education through training and community service projects.

The NYPD and the Police Foundation have set up a scholarship honoring Guzman-Feliz. The Lesandro Guzman-Feliz Memorial College Fund will provide two $5,000 scholarships each year to members of the Explorers program to be used toward tuition and school supplies upon enrollment in an accredited college.

“There is no better way to honor a young man whose stated dream was to become one of the greatest detectives in the world than by establishing a memorial scholarship in his honor,” O’Neill had said when announcing the scholarship.

The inaugural scholarships were presented to Nahomi Zambrano and Malachi Nelson at the Law Enforcement Explorers graduation ceremony on Aug. 22. The recipients were selected based on an application, personal essay, letters of recommendation and successful completion of the Explorers program.

Guzman-Feliz's parents, who attended the ceremony, said the teen would have been happy with his namesake scholarship.

Community outrage

News of Guzman-Feliz’s slaying spread rapidly due, in part, to video of the attack that was shared on social media.

The Belmont community quickly rallied behind the teen’s family and a memorial grew outside the bodega where he was attacked.

The hashtag #justiceforjunior became an online rallying cry for those who wished to show support for the family and to demand justice from police.

Hundreds of mourners attended Guzman-Feliz’s funeral on June 27, and hundreds more stood outside during the service. People waiting outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Belmont chanted, “Justice for Junior!” as his coffin was carried out.

Guzman-Feliz's death also caught the attention of several celebrities, including Bronx native Cardi B, Rihanna as well as La La and Carmelo Anthony, who visited Guzman-Feliz’s mother and sister.

On Feb. 27, Guzman-Feliz's family and City Councilman Ritchie Torres held a street renaming ceremony at 183rd Street & Bathgate Avenue. 

"Junior impacted thousands of lives and this is a small way to memorialize his life and legacy," Torres said while announcing the ceremony on Twitter.

The teen will also be memorialized with a namesake summer camp dedicated to helping Bronx children. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who announced "Camp Junior" during his State of the Borough address on Feb. 21, said children between the ages of 9 and 13 who live in specific ZIP codes will be eligible for the free camp at Harriman State Park in Rockland and Orange counties.

With Nicole Brown, Anthony DeStefano and Allegra Hobbs

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