A Central Islip teenager was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years to life in prison for killing a fellow gang member in the mistaken belief that the victim was a police informant.
Wilmer Zuniga, 19, was convicted last month of second-degree murder in the death of Leodan Bonilla, 18, of Brentwood. Authorities say Zuniga was one of three men who led Bonilla into the woods near the Southern State Parkway in North Bay Shore and who each took a turn firing a shot into Bonilla's head on Dec. 2, 2010. Juan Gomez, 19, of Brentwood, is awaiting trial, and Onan Chica, 19, of Brentwood, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and is cooperating against the other two. He will get between 15 and 18 years in prison.
"It's very clear this was an execution-style murder," Assistant District Attorney Peter Timmons said in court. "This defendant has never shown any remorse."
Zuniga Wednesday said, "My heart goes out to the family. I'm very sorry for their loss." But he also said he expects to be exonerated by a higher court.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro told him a jury considered the evidence and found he conspired to kill Bonilla and fired a gun from 9 inches away into his face.
Bonilla's mother, Avilia Bonilla, tearfully thanked State Police and prosecutors in court.
Defense attorney Arthur Gracek told Ambro that his client was an unwilling member of the MS-13 street gang.
"There was testimony that the defendant was forced into the gang MS-13," he said. "He was not a strongly committed MS-13 member. The defendant was like a junior partner. . . . He should be viewed as another victim of MS-13."
Timmons said the conspiracy to kill Bonilla developed because his family had bailed him out after he was arrested on an immigration violation. Gang members assumed the only way he could have made bail was to cooperate with law enforcement -- a violation of the gang's cardinal rule, he said. "They believed the victim was talking to the police, and they were wrong," Timmons said. "They basically thought they were killing a rat."
The defendants got a "green light" to kill Bonilla from gang leaders, even though they typically want some kind of proof of cooperation before ordering an execution, Timmons said. Several gang members were upset that Bonilla was killed with no such proof and testified against Zuniga.
In the woods, police say, Zuniga fired the first shot into Bonilla's face. He passed the gun to Gomez, who shot Bonilla in the head, and then Chica took a turn.