Anthony Carlo's Notes for Junior Trial Day 17
DAY 17 OF THE ‘JUNIOR’ TRIAL: ESTRELLA’S DEFENSE AND THE DA’S CLOSING ARGUMENT BRINGS JURORS TO TEARS
Kyle Watters, the defense for Jonaiki Martinez-Estrella, addressed the jury first during his closing argument, Tuesday. Watters – facing the jury after all of the other defense attorneys appeared to place blame on his client, saying only one of the defendants intended to kill Junior. Estrella is accused of inflicting the deadly wound on Junior’s neck.
Watters told the jury that the Bronx District Attorney failed to prove intention to kill. “It was not a case of mistaken identity but of misfortune,” he said. Watters brought up the testimony of Michael “Sosa” Reyes who testified in front of a grand jury last year that Junior threw up a gang sign when the Trinitarios approached him.
Reyes denied remembering that during this trial. But, Watters did not forget Reyes’ testimony that Junior responded to the gang with a Trinitarios greeting: “que lo siete.” Watters said someone who is not affiliated with the gang would not know that expression.
Watters said Estrella was new to the gang and, along with Kevin Alvarez, had a lot to prove. The lawyer recalled testimony from Detective Charne Jimenez regarding the punishments gang members could receive if they do not follow orders from the leaders. Watters also referencing the Jimenez testimony, which said gang missions, constitute causing injury to an opposing gang, not necessarily death.
Watters maintained that Estrella, like the rest, only intended to hurt Junior, not kill him, following the orders of their alleged leader Diego Suero. Estrella is accused of inflicting the deathblow to Junior’s jugular vein. Watters said all of the other defendants were armed with deadly weapons and all were close enough to kill Junior.
Watters alleged the fear on Junior’s face showed he knew what was going to happen because he was a gang member himself. Watters placed blame on Alvarez for dragging Junior out of the bodega.
Watters acknowledged the Medical Examiner’s testimony that it was the knife wound from his client that ultimately caused Junior’s death, but says Junior was squirming and moving around a lot on the ground when the other gang members were trying to strike him, preventing them from doing what Estrella was able to do when Junior was standing back on his feet and moving less. Watters also said his client did not intend to kill Junior, even though he stabbed him in the neck.
Watters admitted that Junior’s death was horrible, but says it may have been prevented if someone had just applied pressure to his neck, recounting what the Medical Examiner testified. Watters also used the words Estrella allegedly uttered about hitting Junior in his neck to try to prove the intent was to hurt, not kill, since he did not tell Diego that he had killed Junior, and also didn’t know he had died.
Watters said the jury could convict Estrella of manslaughter or gang assault, but not murder.
Assistant Bronx District Attorney Morgan Dolan began her closing argument with, “Dios, Patria, Libertad…” the three words she said these five men pledged allegiance to when they joined the Sures set of the Trinitarios. “When they knowingly and voluntarily entered this gang,” Dolan said.
“Their actions – they don’t support the Dominican Republic…their actions and decisions to kill their own brothers…they put themselves here,” Dolan said. The lead prosecutor said the crime started months and years before Junior was murdered, when these five men took their oath in the gang, going in knowing they would have to complete missions that could result in someone’s death.
“Weapons like knives and machetes kill and they went in knowing that,” Dolan said. “When he was dragged out they put those knives to him, stabbing repeatedly.” The prosecutor responded to the defense argument that there was no conspiracy to kill.
“If there was no plan, then why did 15 individuals do the same thing on the night of June 20th,” she said. Dolan said that is proof of a plan and conspiracy to commit this young boy’s murder.
Dolan also responded to the argument that the testimonies of key witnesses Alvarez and Reyes were not credible by saying, “they’re all believable about proving identity…just because you are a cooperating witness doesn’t mean you can’t come in here and tell the truth.”
Dolan then addressed each defendant’s involvement in the crime, first starting with Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago. His lawyer, Amy Attias, argued Monday that Santiago lagged behind the rest of the gang chasing Junior because he didn’t really want to be doing what he was doing. Dolan argued Tuesday that “just because he is slow and cannot run as fast, does not mean he does not have the intent.”
“The thrust after thrust he did is not indicative of a mistake, it is not indicative of a lack of intent, it is indicative that in that moment he intended to kill this 15 year old boy,” Dolan said. “This 15 year old boy, in the moments before his death, fought and fought like hell…”
“Just because the victim fights to avoid injury does not change the intent of the defendants,” Dolan argued. “Their intent, when you thrust the knife over and over again, and when you hack the machete over and over again, is the intent to kill.”
Dolan addressed defense lawyer Toni Messina’s argument that her client, Manuel Rivera, was “in over his head” as an 18 year old looking for security in the gang, by saying, under our law, he is considered an adult and old enough to make concerted decisions.
Dolan pointed out Rivera stabbed his fellow gang member, Elvin Garcia, through his hand, as an example of how hard he was thrusting his knife in the direction of Junior.
Dolan said just because Junior was blocking the machete, does not change the intent of Jose Muniz. “Even if his machete did not cause the fatal injury to Junior, it doesn’t diminish is role in the Trinitarios.” Dolan also pointed out in the video you can see Muniz holding Junior down to give the other gang members a chance to stab.
Dolan moved on to Elvin Garcia, saying, “use your common sense, someone who is stabbing someone else that fast and that hard intends to commit a crime…he was actively engaged in the assault and the murder of this 15 year old boy.”
Dolan finished by addressing Estrella, saying “why does he go in with his fellow gang members while he was being held down and stabbed, and plunge a knife into his neck…the blood on his hands is the blood of Junior’s…when you plunge a knife into the neck, your intent is not to seriously injure somebody, your intent is to kill.”
Dolan reminded the jury that Junior’s blood was found in the same getaway car as Garcia’s blood, but Garcia was not in that car. Dolan suspected Estrella made contact with Garcia’s wound after Rivera stabbed him by accident during the attack, spreading the blood of both Garcia, and Junior, when he sat in the back passenger’s seat of Alvarez’ car.
Dolan brought up recorded phone calls between Estrella and his wife in which she alleges his own wife called him a murderer. Estrella also disclosed that he dropped his weapon into a sewer so police could not find it, according to Dolan. “To find the knife the police are going to have to get in the sewer full of shit, full of grease, full of urine, full of everything,” Dolan recalled of Estrella’s phone call.
Dolan finished her closing argument by telling the jury that the gang tortured Junior before they killed him, fulfilling the element for first-degree murder. Dolan alleged the defendants took pleasure in what they did, hoping they could use the act for personal advancement in their gang.
Dolan showed the 22-minute video compilation of the pursuit and stabbing of Junior to the jury one more time, bringing some of the jurors to tears.
“15 men, 4 cars on 1 boy, alone, unarmed, defenseless, helpless, ladies and gentlemen, I would assert to you is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime on June 20, 2018 was cruel.”
The defense calling for a mistrial fearing the jury would not be able to remain fair heading into deliberations after seeing the powerful video compilation. Martin Goldberg, who represents Muniz, making a strong case that juror number one should be pulled aside and spoken to since she breaks down every time the video of Junior’s death is played.
The judge told the defense he has not seen any outburst from her, denying the motion. The judge will charge the jury Thursday and prepare them for deliberations.