NEW YORK — Two top leaders of the Trinitarios gang were found guilty of murder Friday for ordering a deadly attack on a 15-year-old boy who was dragged out of a Bronx deli four years ago and hacked to death with knives and a machete.
The depraved details of the killing were captured on video, rattling New York City like few other crimes. The young victim, Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, had begged the store’s clerk to let him hide behind the counter after trying to outrun his attackers.
It had been a case of mistaken identity, police said, carried out by feuding rival sets of a well-organized Dominican gang that gained a foothold in New York City after being established in 1993 by detainees held on Rikers Island.
Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times
More than a dozen men were charged in the weeks after the slaying as tips flooded in from residents outraged by the craven nature of the crime.
Five of the men seen on video attacking the boy, who became known citywide by his nickname, Junior, are already serving lengthy sentences after being convicted in 2019, the Bronx district attorney, Darcel D. Clark, said.
The two men found guilty Friday after a four-week trial, Diego Suero, 33, of the Bronx, and Frederick Then, 24, of Pennsylvania, were leaders of a Trinitarios set known as the Los Surés.
Trial testimony showed that Then — Suero’s second-in-command — had summoned gang members to Suero’s home and ordered them to attack a rival set known as Sunset.
The group, carrying weapons, set off in four cars, stopping only for gas, prosecutors said.
Junior, who lived in the Bronx and had participated in a New York Police Department “Explorer” program for students hoping to become officers, was mistaken for a member of the rival group, authorities said.
On June 20, 2018, about 11:40 pm, Junior had been walking alone in the Belmont section of the Bronx, looking at his phone, when he was approached. The men chased him for roughly four blocks, finally catching up to him as he tried to hide inside the Cruz and Chiky Grocery, a bodega at East 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue.
Then watched the attack from a short distance away and later called Suero to report that his orders had been carried out, Clark said.
“We said we would attain justice for Junior and this verdict does that,” Clark said in a statement, adding that she hoped it would bring “some consolation to his family who have endured so much pain.”
After the slaying, a member of the gang sent a message to Suero, stating, “You are the one who gave the light for the kid,” according to prosecutors.
Suero replied, “Yes, for all of Sunset.”
Junior’s funeral drew more than 1,000 mourners, forcing police to close down the street outside the Bronx funeral home.
Suero and Then are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 16; each faces 25 years to life in prison.
The boy’s mother, Leandra Feliz, who attended parts of the trial, could not be immediately reached for comment.
In 2019, after the first five men were convicted, Feliz described living with unimaginable pain.
“That night, there were two deaths: Junior and I, who was left dead inside,” Feliz told The New York Times. “If it were up to me, I would sentence these murderers to 300 years in prison.”
© 2022 The New York Times Company