12 Men Indicted in Machete Killing of Bronx Teenager
Posted July 18, 2018 10:26 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — Leandra Feliz sat in the second row of a packed Bronx courtroom on Wednesday, staring down each of the 12 men charged with killing her 15-year-old son with machetes and knives.
“Asesino!” she shouted, Spanish for assassin, as the first two were led away in handcuffs after being arraigned on murder charges. A court officer warned her to be quiet and Feliz stepped into a hallway of the Bronx Hall of Justice to compose herself.
Prosecutors said the defendants are all members of the Trinitarios, a highly organized and violent Dominican gang based in New York City. Each pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy and other charges in an indictment handed up by a grand jury for the killing of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz on June 20.
The indictment followed a monthlong investigation into Lesandro’s death. Captured on video that was shared widely across social media, the slaying of a boyish-looking teenager at the hands of machete-wielding gang members has gripped the city, sparking outrage and support from local politicians, the police commissioner and celebrities like rapper Cardi B and Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia. The police said Lesandro’s killers mistook him for a member of a rival group.
The teen who was known as “Junior” left his home in the Belmont section of the Bronx at around 10 p.m. to lend money to a friend, his mother has said. At the same time, prosecutors said, a subset of the Trinitarios known as Los Surés had gathered just over 2 miles away on Boston Road at the home of Diego Suero, 29, whom the police described as a gang leader. The men made a plan to hunt down members of a rival Trinitarios faction known as Sunset, according to the indictment.
Moments later, the men piled into four cars and drove toward D’Auria-Murphy Triangle, where they spotted Lesandro and chased him, shouting “Sunset,” prosecutors said. The boy ran four blocks to a bodega and sought shelter behind the counter. A security camera inside of the bodega recorded several of the men dragging the terrified and shoeless teenager from the bodega before pummeling him with knives and machetes. His throat cut, Lesandro stumbled from the bodega toward St. Barnabas Hospital before he collapsed and died.
After the attack the gang members returned to Suero’s home, hid the weapons and attempted to provide first aid to Elvin Garcia, 23, whose hand had been cut during the assault, the indictment said.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said on Wednesday that Lesandro’s murder “has shocked people everywhere for its brutality.”
All 12 men are accused of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, second-degree conspiracy, first-degree gang assault and other charges. Five of the defendants are additionally charged with first-degree murder and face life in prison without parole, if convicted: Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, 24, of Freeport, N.Y.; Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago, 24, Jose Muniz, 22, and Manuel Rivera, 18, all of the Bronx; and Mr. Garcia, of Manhattan. Prosecutors said that Martinez Estrella dealt the fatal blow to Lesandro’s neck.
The seven others are all Bronx residents: Suero, Jose Tavarez, 21; Danel Fernandez, 21; Danilo Payamps Pacheco, 21; Gabriel Ramirez Concepcion, 26; Luis Cabrera Santos, 25; Kevin Alvarez, 19.
Lesandro was a member of the Police Department’s Explorer program and had aspired to become a detective. The police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, who went to the boy’s wake, said on Wednesday the killers had shown a “callous indifference to human life” and the murder was “abhorrent at its core.”
Six of the defendants fled the city and were arrested in Paterson, New Jersey, and one was arrested in Connecticut. The chief of detectives, Dermot F. Shea, said the arrests are only one prong of the department’s efforts to disrupt the gang, which has revived in strength after several federal takedowns weakened it between 2009 and 2014. The police have arrested 67 other Trinitarios in the last month on various charges, Shea said.
Justice George R. Villegas of state Supreme Court ordered the defendants held without bail on Rikers Island and set Oct. 25 for the next court date.
Outside the courtroom, Feliz addressed the more than two dozen people who had come to support her. She asked for justice. “They killed a good boy,” she said. “He was a baby.”