Juan Gomez convicted of murder of fellow MS-13 gang member Leodan Bonilla
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The last of three men charged with killing a fellow gang member because they mistakenly believed he was a police informant was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder and second-degree conspiracy.
Juan Gomez, 19, of Brentwood, was found guilty in the December 2010 death of Leodan Bonilla, 18, of Brentwood, a fellow member of the MS-13 street gang. All participants in the crime were high school age at the time, and the trial provided vivid accounts of how the gang drafted boys and young men into it -- sometimes against their will -- and how it insisted on violence and obedience.
During deliberations, jurors focused on testimony of two gang members. One was Anthony Duartes, who was moved out of state after he testified, Assistant District Attorney Peter Timmons told jurors afterward.
Jurors listened to jailhouse recordings of calls from Gomez to Duartes, in which Duartes begged Gomez to plead guilty so he wouldn't be forced to testify.
When he did take the stand, Duartes told about being "beaten in" to the gang after its leaders decided he knew too much to not be a member. He told jurors he was scared and upset he was subpoenaed to testify.
"I don't want to become a snitch," he said. "You could die. You get killed. You get greenlighted," he said, using the gang's term for approving a killing.
Duartes said Gomez should be careful of Bonilla because he was a snitch. Duartes said Gomez told him that he, Wilmer Zuniga and Onan Chica were planning to kill someone.
Zuniga, 19, of Central Islip, was convicted of murder in December. Chica, 19, of Brentwood, testified against Zuniga and Gomez after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in return for a sentence of 15 to 18 years in prison.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro sentenced Zuniga to 25 years to life, and will sentence Gomez on June 13.
The defendants picked Bonilla up at his house after getting the "green light" from gang leaders to kill him. They took him to a dead-end street in North Bay Shore, then into the woods next to the Southern State Parkway and each shot him in the head, Chica testified.
Gomez, who has teardrop tattoos on his face and others on his neck, did not react when he heard the verdict.
"I always respect the jury's verdict," defense attorney Daniel Guttmann said afterward. "I'm sure my client looks forward to his appeal. He's always maintained his innocence."
Several jurors said afterward they tried to find holes in the case, but couldn't.
"It all fit," one juror said. "We looked for it not to fit."
"We feel he had his day," another juror said.