A man who prosecutors said was looking for “street cred” as an MS-13 gang member when he fatally shot an 18-year-old high school student in Roosevelt in 2002 pleaded guilty Wednesday.
Authorities said Wuilmer Mendosa, 33, fled to El Salvador and was a fugitive for 13 years after firing four bullets into Johnathan Harris on a Roosevelt street.
Federal marshals arrested Mendosa in Texas in May 2015 when he tried to come back into the United States, and he later pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge during an October 2015 arraignment in Nassau County Court.
Under a plea bargain Wednesday, Mendosa admitted to first-degree manslaughter in the same Mineola court. Nassau Supervising Judge Christopher Quinn gave a sentencing commitment to Mendosa of 10 years behind bars and 5 years of post-release supervision. The district attorney’s office had recommended a 12-year prison sentence.
Speaking through a Spanish-language interpreter, Mendosa admitted he meant “to cause harm” to Harris when he shot him on Oct. 24, 2002.
Authorities have said Mendosa was on East Raymond Street in Roosevelt with other gang members when they saw Harris, who was on a bicycle and with a couple of friends. The MS-13 members asked Harris if he was in the rival Bloods street gang and he told them he wasn’t before Mendosa shot him in the chest, abdomen and arm, authorities have said.
Mendosa then fled, got rid of the gun, borrowed money and left the country, according to prosecutors.
The shooting stoked racial tensions at Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School, where Harris previously had been a student, with school officials canceling a homecoming celebration and closing school for a day in the aftermath. The victim was black and Mendosa is Hispanic, and school officials said at the time that some students had prowled the high school’s halls looking to vent their rage on other students.
Police made four arrests after the shooting, but said that while those suspects “acted in concert” with the shooter, none of them had pulled the trigger.
Harris’ family remembered him after his slaying as a teenager with great wit and a love of rap music. He’d been about to earn his GED and a certificate in engineering technology at the time of his death and police said he wasn’t part of any gang activity.
Harris’ mother said after Mendosa’s arrest last year that her family was “full of joy” that he would finally face justice.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement Wednesday she hoped Mendosa’s guilty plea would “bring some solace” to the victim’s family 14 years later.
Mendosa’s attorney, Brian Carmody, said after his client’s plea Wednesday that Mendosa was “relieved that after 14 years, a weight’s been lifted from him.”
“He’s acknowledged responsibility for this death,” the Westbury attorney added.
Mendosa’s sentencing was set for Nov. 23.