Officers found Alexis Gonzalez-Sanchez suffering from gunshot wounds in a parking...

Officers found Alexis Gonzalez-Sanchez suffering from gunshot wounds in a parking lot on Union Avenue in August 2020. Credit: Google Maps

A murder conviction against a teenage shooter for the death of a Melville man during a 2020 party has fallen apart after a judge ruled that the Nassau County District Attorney's office withheld vital information during the trial.

The guilty verdict of Junior Maldonado, now 20, of Hempstead, has been set aside after he was found guilty at a March 2023 jury trial for the murder of Alexis Gonzalez-Sanchez, 27, during a fight that broke out amid the festivities, according to authorities.

On Feb. 8, Acting Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty ordered the verdict to be overturned after Assistant District Attorney Kirk Sendlein admitted having three conversations with the key witness regarding a $5,000 reward offered via the Nassau County police Crime Stoppers tip program and not disclosing the information to Maldonado’s lawyer, Jason Russo.

“The People's failure to provide the impeachment material, whether in good faith or bad faith, deprived the defendant of a line of impeachment questioning of [the witness], calling into question his credibility, his motive to falsify, and his interest in the outcome of the case,” Gugerty wrote in her decision.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A murder conviction against a teenage shooter for the death of a Melville man during a 2020 party was overthrown after a judge ruled that the Nassau County District Attorney's office withheld vital information during the trial.
  • The guilty verdict of Junior Maldonado has been set aside after he was found guilty at a March 2023 jury trial for the murder of Alexis Gonzalez-Sanchez, 27.
  • Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly said her office will retry the case.

The judge noted that a fourth conversation with the witness was not disclosed until a post-conviction hearing.

“The court finds this troubling as this last disclosure was completely omitted in ADA Sendlein's post-verdict email to the Court and defense counsel,” Gugerty wrote.

The judge’s decision hinges on the testimony of Jerry Navarette, who told the jury he was a childhood friend of the slain man.

On Aug. 16, 2020, Gonzalez-Sanchez attended a friend’s house party beside a parking lot on Union Avenue where about 40 people, mostly his friends, attended, according to court records. During the event, a group of unknown partygoers showed up and multiple fights broke out. At one point during the melee, a young man started waving a handgun around threatening other partygoers not to come closer.

Navarette, who told the jury he did not drink because his wife forbade it, said he attempted to usher his spouse away from the violence after he heard two gunshots and saw Gonzalez-Sanchez splayed out on the ground with two gunshot wounds to the face, according to both defense lawyer and prosecutor’s version of events.

Navarette identified the suspected shooter to police by his “mushroom shape” haircut and clothing. He was also able to pick out Maldonado in a photo array, according to prosecutors.

“Everyone at the party except Navarette was high or drunk,” Russo said. “He was the sole eyewitness. He was their star witness.”

Three weeks before the trial, Sendlein checked in with Navarette regarding his willingness to testify, and at that point, he brought up the $5,000 Crime Stoppers reward. The advertisement for the reward had been posted days after the murder, according to the district attorney, and was administered by the Nassau County police, not the prosecutor’s office.

Navarette mentioned the money twice more, but Sendlein said the witness understood that he would not be paid to testify.

It was only after the verdict on March 16, when the witness again asked about the money that Sendlein told the defense attorney about his inquiries “in an abundance of caution,” according to the court filings.

He said he hadn’t disclosed the information before this because of professional overload.

A spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said the information would not have changed the outcome of the case, which the office will retry. 

“The NCDA takes our ethical obligations very seriously and our obligation to disclose information to defendants is ongoing and does not end because of a verdict,” said Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for Donnelly, said in a statement. 

Before being hired at the Nassau County District Attorney’s office in 2022, Sendlein spent 13 years at the Queens District Attorney’s office, where he oversaw numerous trials, including three homicides.

Russo said he would ask the judge at retrial that another prosecutor try the case because he intends to call Sendlein as a witness.

“This was quite careless for a veteran prosecutor,” Russo said. “He’s a highly trained homicide prosecutor. It is quite troubling, as the judge said.” 

Latest videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME