Anthony Carlo's Notes on Junior Trial Day 15
‘JUNIOR’ TRIAL DAY 15: UNHEARABLE PHONE CALLS AND MEDICAL EXAMINER TESTIFIES ON AUTOPSY
Friday left us with both answered and unanswered pivotal questions in this trial. The prosecution started the day by calling Scott Frank to the witness stand. Frank, an investigator for the New York City Department of Corrections, laid the foundation for the Bronx District Attorney to introduce recorded phone calls involving the imprisoned defendants. Frank testifying that the only calls not recorded involves conversations with their lawyers or medical staff. Frank says both the inmate and other party on the phone call are made aware the call is being recorded.
Prosecutors downloaded specific phone calls for the purposes of evidence in this trial, previously arguing that the calls were pertinent to the investigation because defendants allegedly admitted guilt and disclosed the locations the weapons used to kill Junior were discarded.
The DA pulling conversations involving Jonaiki Martinez-Estrella, Manuel Rivera, and Danel Fernandez, who is awaiting trial in the second group of defendants. Judge Robert Neary made it a point to inform the court that the jury must rely on the court interpreter’s translation of each call, even if a juror understands the call to mean something else in their language.
The court passes out transcriptions of each recorded phone call conversation to the jury so they can follow along with the English translation, while audio of the calls are being played. The majority of the calls were in Spanish, and the audio of the calls played in court was so poor that, after consulting with each other, none of the reporters could make out what was being said, including reporters who are fluent in Spanish.
I was informed by defense lawyer Chris Carrion, of the Carrion Law Group, that the hard copies of the translated phone calls that were dispersed to the jury, would not immediately be available to the press because it is considered active evidence since there is a second trial looming involving one defendant who could be heard in some of the calls (Danel Fernandez.) I have reached out to the chief communications officer for the DA’s office to ask if we could receive a hard copy of the translations now and I am awaiting a response.
When the first call involving Estrella is played, he starts talking to the other defendants in the courtroom, and at one point, puts his hand over his face. What exactly Estrella was saying could not be heard from where the press sits in court. Estrella appears to be speaking to a woman in each of the calls played in court. During cross examination, Kyle Watters, Estrella’s lawyer, raises the question of confidentiality during calls, asking investigator Frank if a call between an inmate and his wife would still be recorded, to which Frank responded, it would be. If an inmate wants to speak privately they can do so through visitation or written mail.
Investigator Frank then details what commissary is, explaining J-Pay, which is an account the public can utilize to send money to inmates. Prosecutors reveal Manuel Rivera was paid through this account.
After lunch, Dr. Sophia Rodriguez from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner takes the stand. She performed Junior’s autopsy on June 22, 2018. Junior’s body had arrived for autopsy reflecting that medical intervention had already been done. Rodriguez testifying there was a tube in his windpipe, an incision on the left side of his chest, and catheter tubes imbedded in the bones in order to provide fluids to the patient. The incision in the chest, medically know as a thoracotomy, is done in an emergency situation to try to access the lungs and the heart.
Rodriguez says she observed blunt force injuries. She saw bruises, scrapes and “stab wounds on the neck, two on the right and one on the left…there were injuries, scrapes and bruises on the left side of the face,” Rodriguez said. “On the inner surface of the lips there was bruising and scrapes.”
“There was some hemorrhaging under the scalp of the right side of the head,” Rodriguez said. Prosecutors pulled up a frontal photo of Junior’s face; eyes closed, face drawn, lips appearing to be white, showing bruises above the right side of the lip. “That wound would be consistent with a blunt force injury,” Rodriguez testifies.
Prosecutors pulled up a profile photo of the left side of his face. “This is a superficial scraping…” Rodriguez testified, pointing out bruising over his left eyebrow. Prosecutors pulled up the next picture, a closer view of the left side of his face, showing bruising under his sideburn.
Prosecutors showed a picture of the left side of Junior’s neck. Rodriguez comments on a stab wound saying, “to me it is an indication of a single edge blade.” A shot of Junior’s chest and stomach areas is now displayed on the TV screen for the jury. “This is a superficial wound that just hits the top layer of the skin,” Rodriguez points out. A photo of Junior’s lower back reflects scrapes.
Rodriguez says she looked foe defensive wounds, which can usually be found on the hands and forearms and are sustained from raising your arms and legs in an effort to block your face from an armed assailant. Junior had scraping on his right wrist.
The medical examiner using the word “superficial” several times to describe the injuries about Junior’s body. Prosecutor Morgan Dolan asks Rodriguez, “does the term superficial have any meaning specifically regarding the inflictor of the wound,” to which Rodriguez responds, “no.” “Does it have any meaning in the medical world regarding the force used…” Dolan asks. “No,” Rodriguez responds.
The prosecution pulled up photos of the right side of Junior’s neck depicting a horrific wound. At least three jury members turn away. One puts her hand over her mouth in apparent shock. “It was very irregular, it was gaping, wide open…” Rodriguez testifies.
“I was able to detect it was a single edge knife or blade,” that caused the lethal wound, Rodriguez testified. “Either the person moved or the assailant and object moved…it is likely the knife went in and moved,” Rodriguez said.
“The knife made it from the right side to left, hit the muscle, hit the vein…hit the tissue on the back side of the mouth,” Rodriguez testified on the fatal knife wound she says cut into Junior’s jugular and left an exit wound on the left side of his neck.
“If the jugular is cut it will start to bleed, if not treated, it will cause…loss of blood to the point the body goes into shock and the person can die…” Rodriguez says. “There was an incision across the bone that protects the spinal cord.” The wound was 4 and a half inches deep.
“The injury to the right neck would not have been survived for very long…Mr. Guzman-Feliz actually bled to death,” Rodriguez testified. But although the injury was severe, the doctor saying Junior still had a shot to live.
“It is possible if he was brought to the hospital earlier than he was, he could have survived,” pointing out the lack of pressure on his neck, and his decision to run to the hospital worked against him – causing the blood to gush out more ferociously.
Rodriguez says none of Junior’s other wounds contributed to his death. She was not able to tell how big the blade was that caused the lethal wound. But, Estrella who is accused of inflicting the wound allegedly had a big kitchen knife.
Under the gaping hole in the right side of Junior’s neck is a second puncture wound, according to Rodriguez who calls it another “sharp force injury.”
Rodriguez testifying there was one puncture hole on his sweater and one on his tee shirt.
Rodriguez says none of Junior’s other wounds contributed to his death, aside from the cut to his jugular.
The Medical Examiner reports marijuana was found in Junior’s blood after toxicology testing, but did not have any contribution to his death.
Jose Muniz became a poster boy for this case -- caught on camera swinging a machete at Junior. Martin Goldberg, who represents Muniz, cross examined Rodriguez pointing out that the use of a machete -- when applied to skin -- would cause a “chopping wound” and may even cause fracturing of the bone. Rodriguez says she saw neither on Junior. She also didn’t see any mutilation, which is typically consistent with the use of a machete. Goldberg submits photos of Junior’s thigh and pelvic area. “Do you see any evidence of somebody being hacked by a machete,” Goldberg asks. “I do not see any significant injuries there,” Rodriguez responds.
After cross-examination, the prosecution rested its case. On Monday the defense has the chance to call witnesses if it chooses. After that, summations or closing arguments begin.