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Long IslandCrime

Reputed gang member pleads not guilty to murder charge

Antoine Foster, charged with second-degree murder, is escorted

Antoine Foster, charged with second-degree murder, is escorted out of Nassau police headquarters in Mineola on Friday. Credit: Newsday

A 17-year-old reputed gang member on Friday denied involvement in the Christmas Day shooting death of a Hempstead father as detectives brought him to court, where the accused then pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

Antoine Foster’s arraignment in Hempstead District Court followed his arrest Wednesday in Alexandria, Virginia, after what a prosecutor called a six-month run from the law.

Victim Rafael Cepeda, 35, was walking from his Hempstead home to a nearby Long Island Rail Road station to pick up his 11-year-old daughter when gunfire from a semiautomatic handgun hit him in the chest and killed him, according to authorities.

The Dec. 25 shooting happened at about 6:20 p.m. on Terrace Avenue, according to police. They said Cepeda already had wrapped his daughter’s Christmas gifts before leaving to try to meet her as she returned from visiting relatives.

Police have said Foster is a member of the Bloods street gang and was firing at a vehicle he believed belonged to a rival gang, with a second Bloods member acting as a “spotter,” when gunfire struck Cepeda as he was crossing the street in front of that vehicle.

District Court Judge Maxine Broderick ordered Foster remanded to jail without bail Friday after prosecutor Ania Pulaski told her the defendant had fled the jurisdiction after committing the fatal slaying before Nassau detectives recently located him in Virginia. The defendant also faces separate marijuana-related charges, according to court records. If convicted of the murder charge, Foster would face 25 years to life in prison.

Mineola defense attorney Christopher Devane called Foster a lifelong resident of Hempstead with no criminal convictions and appealed for a $100,000 bail, while also pointing out that Foster’s mother and grandmother were in court.

Foster’s arraignment follows the January arrest of Shameq Sullins, then 16, whom police have accused of acting as Foster’s “spotter” during the shooting. Sullins previously pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

“Arraignment’s always the best day for the prosecution. It always is. Perp walk, this, the allegations. But now they have to start proving the case, in court, the way it should be,” Devane said after leaving the courtroom Friday.

The Nassau district attorney’s office later declined to comment.

A group of Foster’s relatives wouldn’t comment while leaving the arraignment, and court officials summoned extra security as some became confrontational when news cameras approached. Foster’s grandmother later apologized to court officers after they escorted the group outside.

A court spokesman said later there was no disruption to the courthouse’s operations.

A longtime friend of Cepeda’s said in an interview Thursday that his family was relieved by the second arrest in the case, and that the victim’s sister was raising his daughter, who is now 12.

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