A NY state appeals court on Thursday threw out the first-degree murder conviction against the Trinitarios gang member who delivered the fatal machete blow that killed 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz in 2018.
The appellate court decided that Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, who had previously been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the brutal caught-on-camera murder, must now be tried for the lesser charge of second-degree murder, for which he could receive a term of up to 25 years to life in prison.
Martinez Estrella “clearly depicted” cutting off Guzman-Feliz’s neck in the “extremely heinous” machete and dagger murder on June 20, 2018, according to the Appellate Division, First Department decision.
However, the appellate judges concluded that in Martinez Estrella’s case, the prosecution did not successfully reach the high standard for proving first-degree murder.
The court’s decision states, “We find that the evidence was legally inadequate to prove that defendant tortured the victim within the meaning of the statute in two respects.
The five-judge panel specifically stated that the prosecution had failed to establish Martinez Estrella’s involvement in a “course of conduct” intended to “torture” Guzman-Feliz as well as that he “relished” or took delight in the murder.
Martinez Estrella was one of several Trinitarios who pulled Guzman-Feliz from a Bronx bodega and stabbed him on the sidewalk outside, thinking falsely that the adolescent belonged to a rival gang. This heinous act rocked the city and attracted notice from all over the country.
The five gangbangers who murdered Guzman-Feliz, including Martinez Estrella, were condemned by Judge Robert Neary in 2019.
According to Martinez Estrella’s attorney Steven Feinman, police murders and terrorist attacks typically result in charges of first-degree murder.
In addition, the prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant engaged in a “course of conduct” with the purpose to torture the victim, meaning they took pleasure in the act, in order for first-degree murder charges to be brought in other circumstances, the attorney said.
According to Feinman, there was “simply no evidence” that could have met the requirements for first-degree murder under the theory of torture. In light of this, the court correctly overturned the appellant’s conviction for that offense.
Feinman continued, “It must be emphasized that the elements of first-degree murder under the theory of torture are very challenging to satisfy.
Martinez Estrella’s case must be sent back to the lower court so that he can receive a new sentence for the second-degree murder, gang assault, and conspiracy charges that remain.
DA spokesperson Patrice O’Shaughnessy said, “We are carefully reviewing the Appellate Division’s decision and considering all of our options.”
She noted that the other defendants’ sentences are not effected by the order.