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Family upset 2002 killer of teen gets 10-year ‘slap on wrist’

From left, Nakia Matthews, sister, Lorna Matthews, mom,

From left, Nakia Matthews, sister, Lorna Matthews, mom, Curtis Matthews, uncle, and Ijahnaiyah Harris, niece, of Johnathan Harris react to the sentencing of Wuilmer Mendosa on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The mother of a high school student who died in a 2002 Roosevelt gang shooting called her son’s killer an “animal” Wednesday, saying a 10-year prison sentence was “a slap on the wrist” for a man authorities said spent about 13 years on the run.

“You’re gonna have nightmares because you’re going to remember pulling the trigger on my son,” Lorna Matthews, 55, of Hempstead, told Wuilmer Mendosa at his sentencing in Nassau County Court.

Mendosa, 33, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last month in the October 2002 slaying of Johnathan Harris, 18 — who police said had no gang ties of his own.

Prosecutors have said Mendosa, a member of the MS-13 street gang, fled the country and lived for nearly 13 years as an international fugitive before his May 2015 arrest in Texas when he tried to return to the United States from El Salvador.

“You took my child away from me and they’re going to give you 10 years? . . . You’re supposed to have got 25 to life,” Harris’ mother also said in court, while vowing to work at keeping Mendosa behind bars for as long as possible.

Authorities have said Mendosa was looking for “street cred” when he shot Harris on Oct. 24, 2002. Harris was on a bicycle when Mendosa and fellow MS-13 gang members approached with weapons and asked if he was in the Bloods gang, according to authorities. Harris said no, but Mendosa shot him repeatedly anyway, law enforcement officials said.

Mendosa then fled to El Salvador and remained at large until federal agents stopped him last year, according to authorities. Nassau law enforcement officials then extradited him to New York after a grand jury indicted Mendosa on a second-degree murder charge in June 2015. He later pleaded not guilty.

But under a plea bargain, Mendosa admitted to first-degree manslaughter in exchange for Nassau County Supervising Judge Christopher Quinn’s sentence commitment of 10 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision.

Prosecutors had asked for a 12-year prison sentence, a recommendation Assistant District Attorney Donald Levin repeated at Wednesday’s hearing. Levin also said Mendosa had denied being the shooter when speaking recently to probation officials, and there was a valid basis to “have the plea back.”

But Mendosa, who apologized Wednesday for his actions in 2002, also told Quinn he stood by his statements at his October plea hearing. Mendosa’s defense attorney, Brian Carmody, told Quinn his client had told the truth then while under oath.

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said later in a prepared statement that while no sentence would bring Harris back, she was grateful to police and her personnel “for ensuring that this fugitive will now spend years in prison where he belongs.”

Carmody said after court that a handful of other defendants previously were convicted in connection with Harris’ shooting. The Westbury attorney said that in his client’s case the statute of limitations had run out on charges other than murder because Mendosa, while a suspect in the case, wasn’t indicted until 2015.

Mendosa would have gone free if a jury had convicted him of manslaughter, according to Carmody, who said the defense was able to waive the statute of limitations restriction on that charge for the purpose of a plea.

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