Dionicio Calderon walks out of the First Precinct in Copiague...

Dionicio Calderon walks out of the First Precinct in Copiague for arraignment at First District Court in Central Islip on Dec. 14, 2020. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk County judge on Thursday sentenced a Copiague man to 75 years to life in prison for “committing the ultimate sin" of murder during a mass shooting incident in a deli that killed two men and permanently injured two others.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Karen Wilutis told Dionicio Calderon, 65, that his December 2020 “shooting frenzy” was a senseless act of violence that “changed the lives of family and survivors.” A Suffolk County jury convicted Calderon in February of second-degree murder, manslaughter, attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

“My only choice is to remove you from society for the safety of everyone else,” Wilutis told Calderon, who would be 140 years old when eligible for parole.

Calderon, who prosecutors said admitted the murders when he testified at trial, told the judge Thursday that he would have preferred to be executed.

“The death penalty would be better, if you could give me the death penalty,” he said to Wilutis as more than a dozen of his victims’ supporters watched from a crowded Riverhead courtroom.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office had sought a sought the maximum sentence of 25 years to life on the murder charge and consecutive 25-year sentences for two counts of attempted murder.

Calderon had been drinking at the bar at La Vaquita deli on Great Neck Road in Copiague on Dec. 12, 2020, when he pulled out a 9-mm. pistol and shot fellow patron Manuel Cruz Hernandez, 47, in the head and body. He then turned his gun on deli owner Bolivar Rodriguez and shot him in the head before opening fire on two other customers, Daniel Acosta, 40, and Juan Avila Roque, 30. Cruz Hernandez and Rodriguez were killed in the shooting.

Calderon told police a man inside the bar had called him a “narco” before he opened fire, according to charging documents released at the time of his arrest. On Thursday, his court-appointed defense attorney, Ian Fitzgerald, said Calderon “felt threatened” that evening.

Acosta, who was struck in the torso, and Roque, who took bullets to his left arm and chest, were each hospitalized for two weeks, prosecutors said. They both testified at the trial, where jurors also watched surveillance footage of the entire incident, prosecutors said.

Calderon was arrested hours later leaving his house with cash, jewelry and a suitcase full of clothing, prosecutors said. His sweatshirt tested positive for gunshot residue.

Rodriguez’s wife, Eduviges, and his daughter of the same name spoke at the sentencing along with the couple’s sons, Bolivar and Oscar.

Bolivar Rodriguez Jr. recalled being at the deli that evening and holding his father in his arms as he drew his last breath.

“I told him I was sorry for anything I had ever done,” Bolivar Jr. said. “He then looked at me and I could tell he found peace. I could see it in his eyes.”

A photograph of La Vaquita Corp. deli on Great Neck Road...

A photograph of La Vaquita Corp. deli on Great Neck Road in Copiague, where four people were injured, two fatally, during a shooting on Dec. 12, 2020. Credit: James Carbone

Bolivar Rodriguez emigrated from the Dominican Republican in 1977, his family said. He worked as a chef before opening his Copiague deli in 1993. For him, the business was as much about establishing community as it was about making money, his wife and children told Newsday.

“Our motto is with money or without money,” Bolivar Jr. said of his father’s generosity.

“If someone asked for one, he gave them three,” Eduviges said of her husband.

Bolivar Jr. said the family has done the best it can to continue the deli in his father’s absence, but grief over his loss and the memory of the business as a crime scene has kept some customers away.

Oscar Rodriguez wrote down just three words on a piece of paper he carried into the courtroom: “I forgive you.” Bolivar Jr. said the family’s forgiveness is rooted in their faith and a “fear of God.”

During sentencing, Calderon apologized to the Rodriguez family, though he acknowledged saying sorry “isn’t enough.”

“I cannot fix what happened,” he told the court.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney called it a “just sentence.”

“It’s hard to even fathom the terror the victims in this case faced when this defendant opened fire,” Tierney said in a statement.

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