Anthony Carlo's Notes on Junior Trial Day 16
TRIAL DAY 16: CLOSING ARGUMENTS/SUMMATIONS BEGIN
The defense led off summations with Toni Messina, Monday. The veteran lawyer represents Manuel Rivera, the youngest defendant. “He’s a kid who got way in over his head,” Messina said.
The people have to show Rivera went to the scene of Junior’s death with the intent to kill in order to be convicted of first-degree murder, Messina said. There is no proof anyone else knew one person was going to kill him or shared that same intent, according to the defense attorney.
“There was no agreement…there was no pact, there was no decision, there was no order to kill,” Messina said referencing the witness testimony of Kevin Alvarez who previously testified that there was no direction to kill the night of Junior’s death. Messina recalled his response to one of defense lawyer Amy Attias’ questions in which he said the gang was only supposed to rough someone up, not kill them.
“An act by one man, only one man that killed Junior,” Messina said. “There was not a conspiracy to kill, the people overcharged this…this was a gang assault.” Messina admitted the video of Junior’s death is bad, but asks the jury to not only look at the video. Messina pulled up video – freezing the image to show who prosecutors say is Jonaiki Martinez-Estrella stabbing Junior in the neck, while pointing out the rest of the group had already moved away from his body when that was happening.
“Don’t blame my client for the decision of someone else,” Messina begged of the jury. Messina talked about Rivera being an 18-year-old living in the Bronx having come from poverty in the Dominican Republic. “What better way to be a man than with Santa Claus?” Messina pulled up a photo of alleged gang leader Diego Suero with his arm around a laughing Rivera. One of Suero’s nicknames is Santa Claus.
“Junior gave every indication of actually being a Sunset,” Messina said. The defense lawyer said Junior did not deserve to die the way he did, but “by making Junior out to be a saint, they make you hate these guys more,” she said. The reason Junior did not have an abundance of stab wounds is because not all of his attackers wanted to kill him, she said.
“She told you one thing killed Junior, a stab wound to his neck,” Messina said referring to the Medical Examiner’s testimony on Friday.
“He was close enough to kill the kid, but he didn’t want to,” Messina said about Rivera. Her client should have been indicted on gang assault, according to her, but “they wanted to go for the gusto,” Messina said referring to law enforcement. Messina implies the video of the stabbing should have never been released on social media. Messina also points out that Rivera was surrounding Junior’s body for four seconds.
Suero denied Rivera was even a Trinitario after he was arrested for this crime, according to Messina. “Finding Manuel guilty for the crime of someone else, or because he belonged to a gang, doesn’t make things right,” Messina said.
Edward Schneider, who represents Elvin Garcia, stepped up next. He began his summation by saying; “maybe there’s some good in everybody…I don’t think one of them wouldn’t say yes to a do-over on this.” Schneider showed the jury a photo of Garcia’s stab wound that was already entered into evidence. Rivera is accused of stabbing Garcia by accident during the attack.
“He did what a man does, stepped up to the plate, went into the precinct,” Schneider said, describing what Garcia did after police contacted him while he was staying with his uncle out of state. Schneider recalled Garcia’s ex-girlfriend’s testimony which revealed Garcia told her the gang only intended to hurt Junior, not kill him.
“The punishment for not doing what you are supposed to do is very serious,” Schneider said, talking about disciplines that are handed out to gang members for not following Trinitario orders.
Martin Goldberg, who represents Jose Muniz, is next in line taking the jury through how he became involved in the case. “What I saw repulsed me and disgusted me,” Goldberg said describing his reaction to first seeing the video of Junior’s death last June.
“What made it different was the look of fear on this kid’s face…we all wanted the police to go out and arrest the people responsible,” he said. Goldberg originally wanted nothing to do with this case, he said. But when he got a call in January – he rethought his decision because he “believes everyone is entitled to a fair trial,” even his client Muniz.
He knew right off the bat, “the biggest challenge in this case wasn’t going to be the evidence, it was going to be the anger.” Goldberg advised the jury to not let their emotions get the best of them. “That’s not justice for Junior, it’s just trading one injustice for another.”
Goldberg admitted, “This was a totally unjustified killing of a defenseless young boy.” But goes on to say the evidence in this trial is not enough to support a first-degree murder conviction for Muniz. Goldberg, like Messina, brought up the Alvarez testimony – saying the gang did not agree to cause even serious harm like disfigurement or loss of the function of an organ.
Goldberg took a shot at Michael “Sosa” Reyes as a witness --- saying the prosecutor fine-tuned him for his testimony and he got “quite a deal.” Goldberg said the people have to prove all of the defendants, not only acted in concert, but also acted with the same intent to kill, in order to be convicted of the top charge.
Jose Muniz caused absolutely no injury, Goldberg said. For a case that was once dubbed “Machete Murder,” the machete had nothing to do with Junior’s injuries, Goldberg said.
“The mother of all reasonable doubts is that “he had every opportunity to deliver mutilating blows to him with that machete and he didn’t…he showed that he was human and had compassion,” even to someone who he believed was a rival gang member.
Goldberg disclosed that the defense wanted a jury made up of mostly women because women pay attention to detail. Goldberg alleges his client turns his blade away from striking Junior with the sharp side saying, “by turning the blade, that does not make him a hero, but it also does not make him a killer.”
Goldberg got choked up while imagining himself in Junior’s family’s shoes. “He has no one but himself to blame for getting involved with this group of idiots, but he is not a killer,” Goldberg said of his client.
Amy Attias delivered the last closing argument of the day – sharing similar sentiments as the other lawyers – saying one person killed Junior. “Every injury on his body was an eighth of an inch, or a sixteenth of an inch..”
Attias pointed out her client, Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago, is lagging behind the rest of the pack in the video of the pursuit of Junior. Attias said he was always last because he did not really want to partake in the crime.
“He participated in a gang assault with other people, that’s what he’s guilty of…to try to heighten his involvement by lumping him in with everyone else does not work…he does not want to be doing this,” she said.
“He had a knife, but what does he do with the knife? Is he doing anything real or is he just full of it? His knife never got anywhere near Junior’s body.”
Attias pulled up cell phone video from an upper floor apartment showing the attackers converge on Junior on a sidewalk in front of the bodega. You can see Santiago, whom Attias admits is in the video wearing a dark hoodie and white sneakers, charging Junior, but not near his body for very long.
“He’s not stabbing, he’s not injuring, he’s not sharing the intent,” she said. You can see Santiago’s hands move briefly but then the action of the stabbing moves away from him. Attias admits he did have a knife.
“It’s not a torture murder, it’s a regular murder,” Attias said, pointing out that the torture element would have to be proven in order for the first degree conviction to stick. “What is he guilty of, gang assault, that’s what he did.” Attias admitted when she first saw the video of Junior’s death, she cried.
On Tuesday, Kyle Watters, who represents Estrella, will deliver his argument. The judge expects to charge the jury on Thursday – prepping them for deliberation.