#justiceforjunior Killers Sentenced to Life in Prison

Over a year later, friends and family of the 15 year old victim finally got justice for his brutal murder.

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Ruhika Ponda

Hundreds gathered to witness the sentencing of the five defendants.

His parents and teachers described him as “a good kid” who was always willing to help others in any way that he could. Thousands of mourners attended his funeral, many of whom did not know the young victim personally.  Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Felix was only fifteen years old at the time of his death. He was a sophomore at the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School in the Bronx. Junior was part of a program for young aspiring police officers and detectives called The Police Explorers program and had dreamed of becoming a police detective since the age of five. 

On the night of June 20th, 2018, Junior was walking on 183rd street in the Bronx when four cars filled with gang members surrounded him. Witnesses testified that  they called out to him, and Junior’s response indicated that he was part of a gang called The Sunsets. Earlier that night, the gang members who would attack Junior were given an order by Diego Suero, the leader of a massive Dominican gang named The Trinitarios, to “inflict damage upon” Sunset members. The men that attacked Junior were part of two subsets of The Trinitarios: Los Sures and The Bad Boys. According to witness testimony, these groups were in conflict with The Sunsets, and their goal that night was to search for Sunset members and “inflict pain” upon them. 

“Local bodega owners would tell me to stay safe because especially in New York City, you always have to watch out for gang violence,” said Jeffrey Ejiogu, ’21. 

The reason that these gang members specifically chose to attack Junior is not clear however witnesses who were present at the scene stated in court that Junior responded to a gang call, indicating to them that he was part of their rival gang. The gang members immediately began chasing him, following him in cars and on foot. Junior ran into a bodega, seeking refuge by hiding behind the counter. The gang members followed him, trying to convince the owner of the bodega to let him out. Finally, the owner said that he did not want violence in his store and let them take him outside. They dragged him out of the bodega and brutally beat him, even as Junior begged for mercy. The man that delivered the fatal blow, Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, punctured a vein in his neck when he stabbed him, causing him to bleed to death. 

There was a huge media response following the assault of Junior.  Celebrities and citizens shared #justiceforjunior. More than a year later, communities are still affected by this incident. “Local bodega owners would tell me to stay safe because especially in New York City, you always have to watch out for gang violence,” said Jeffrey Ejiogu, ’21, a Bronx resident. This attack brought gang violence to the forefront of discussion about the widespread violence across New York City, especially in the Bronx. 

Ruhika Ponda
Ejiogu describes his experience in his community following Junior’s murder.

The sentencing of the men charged with Junior’s murder occurred on October 11th, 2019. After a lengthy trial, the jury convicted the defendants on all charges. Defense counsel filed a motion opposing these convictions, specifically regarding first degree murder. In order to be convicted of murder in the first degree, prosecution must show that the defendants intended to torture the victim. Although opposing counsel felt that there was not enough evidence of torture, students disagreed. “The charges are very deserving of their actions because as they attacked Junior, he was begging for mercy, and they still continued to torture and eventually murder him,” said Adiel Sanchez ’21. 

In the end, Judge Robert Neary sentenced all of the defendants to the maximum sentence: life in prison. Martinez Estrella is not eligible for parole and the other three defendants (Jose Muniz, Elvin Garcia and Antonio Santiago) will be eligible for parole after twenty-five years. Given that Manuel Rivera is only 19 years old, he will be eligible for parole after twenty-three years. After more than a year, families and friends of Junior were finally able to get justice for his murder. While we continue to face the awful consequences of gang violence in New York City, Junior and his memory will forever remain in the hearts of many. 

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