A Long Island street gang member — who was acquitted of the 2013 murder of a Hempstead teen in state court — on Friday pleaded guilty in federal court to fatally shooting the boy.
Pedro Merchant — who acknowledged being a member of the Outlaws, based in Hempstead — admitted in court that he fired four shots from a .25-caliber pistol into the air and three shots at Dante Quinones, 17, during an argument on Sept. 11, 2013 in Hempstead. Then, Merchant said, he ran away.
“I saw him reaching in his pants,” Merchant, 25, told U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco in Central Islip.
According to prosecutors, the argument ensued when Merchant and fellow Outlaws approached Quinones and asked Quinones whether he was loyal to the Outlaws or their rivals, the Bloods.
Merchant, formerly of North Valley Stream, pleaded guilty to firearm-related murder and faces up to life in prison.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Maffei and Merchant’s attorney, Steve Zissou of Bayside, Queens, recommended a prison term of 20 years.
Bianco, who will ultimately decide Merchant’s punishment, set sentencing for Sept. 14.
Quinones’ mother, Chrissie Quinones, 39, of West Hempstead, who was in court and heard Merchant finally taking responsibility for killing her son, said she was glad to see that justice was served.
“It’s been very hard for me and my family,” she said in an interview afterward. “Both families took a loss here. Nobody is the winner. It’s sad all around.”
Her son did not belong to a gang, Chrissie Quinones said. The gangs tried to recruit him, she said, but he did not want to join them.
Merchant was earlier tried for murder in Nassau County Court in Mineola for Dante Quinones’s death. On May 20, 2015, a jury found Merchant not guilty of second-degree murder and he was set free.
Federal prosecutors, in a superseding indictment filed on July 11, 2017, charged Merchant with murder and other related crimes in Dante Quinones’s death. They also charged another Outlaws member, Alton Gore, with helping Merchant avoid arrest and attempting to kill four men between June 8, 2014 and Aug. 4, 2014.
Following Dante Quinones’ murder, prosecutors said, a war between the Outlaws and the Bloods erupted in Hempstead.
“During the following year, several shootings occurred between the two gangs, including several involving Gore . . . ” prosecutors said in a news release Friday.
On Friday, Gore, 27, admitted in court that on Sept. 14, 2014, he and two fellow Outlaws went to a Hempstead home, where there was a party, and shot at rivals in retaliation.
“Gore and his co-conspirators opened fire into the home, wounding a Bloods member in the leg, while another Bloods member was shot in the head and lost an eye,” according to prosecutors.
Gore, who is also scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 14, faces up to life in prison. His attorney, Joseph Ferrante of Hauppauge, and the prosecutor, Maffei, recommended a prison term of 15 years.
In exchange for their guilty pleas, prosecutors have agreed to drop the remaining charges against Merchant and Gore.