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Man pleads guilty in fatal 2017 Christmas Day shooting

Antoine Foster leaves the Nassau Police headquarters in

Antoine Foster leaves the Nassau Police headquarters in Mineola on June 22, 2018. Credit: Newsday

An 18-year-old alleged gang member has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a father struck by gunfire on Christmas Day as he walked to pick up his 11-year-old daughter at the Hempstead train station.

Antoine Foster entered the plea Wednesday in Nassau County Court in connection with the 2017 shooting in a deal that included the dismissal of murder and weapon charges against him, court records show.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice William O’Brien committed to punishing Foster with 20 years in prison when he appears in court for sentencing early next year, according to the prosecution and defense.

Police have said victim Rafael Cepeda, 35, of Hempstead, wasn’t the intended target of the Terrace Avenue shooting.

Authorities said a bullet hit Cepeda in the chest at 6:20 p.m. on Dec. 25, 2017, as he crossed the street in front of a vehicle on his way to meet his daughter, who had been visiting relatives. He had just wrapped her holiday gifts, they said.

Police said Foster opened fire on the vehicle believing it belonged to a rival gang, while his co-defendant Shameq Sullins, now also 18, acted as his lookout.

Both Hempstead teens, whom police identified as members of the Bloods gang, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges in August 2018 following their indictment.

Foster’s attorney, Christopher Devane, said Friday that his client denies any involvement in a gang.

But he added that Foster now has “accepted responsibility for his actions” and “is very sorry for this tragic turn of events resulting in the death of Mr. Cepeda.”

Devane said, "This incident occurred due to a prior unsolved shooting in which the perpetrators returned looking to cause more mayhem.”

The grand jury’s indictment of the defendants came after Foster’s arrest in June 2018 in Virginia following what authorities said was his six-month run from the law.

Police arrested Sullins about a week after the shooting, but authorities said they never recovered the semiautomatic handgun used in the slaying.

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas previously called Cepeda “an innocent victim killed by senseless gang violence.”

A Singas spokesman said Friday that prosecutors would reserve comment until Foster's sentencing.

A family member of Cepeda's also declined to comment Friday on the guilty plea.

The case against Sullins is pending. Records show he is due in court on Oct. 30.

Sullins’ attorney, Joseph Lo Piccolo, said Friday his client “maintains he was not aware of Mr. Foster’s possession of a weapon and intent to use it immediately prior to the tragic shooting of the deceased.”

He added that authorities have “no proof” Sullins is a gang member.

Both defendants remain in jail without bail.

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