Junior Maldonado in court at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola...

Junior Maldonado in court at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola in June. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A Hempstead man on trial a second time for the fatal shooting of a rival at an outdoor party in 2021 dodged a murder conviction on Tuesday but was found guilty of manslaughter and illegal gun possession.

Junior Maldonado was 16 when he killed Alexis Gonzalez-Sanchez, 27, in a Westbury parking lot after an argument over beer.

According to court papers, Gonzalez-Sanchez and some friends gathered at a party in a parking lot on Union Avenue where about 40 people were drinking and listening to music.

Over the course of the evening, a group of unknown, uninvited partygoers arrived with Maldonado, sparking multiple fights between the groups.

During one of the melees, a young man sporting a “mushroom shape” haircut started waving a handgun around and threatening the rival group not to come closer, according to court papers.

Key witness Jerry Navarette, who said he was sober because his wife did not like him to drink, testified he tried to get his spouse out of the line of fire when he heard two shots and saw the victim on the ground with two gunshot wounds to the face.

None of the partygoers saw Maldonado pull the trigger, but several testified to seeing him with a gun and one saw him fire a warning shot, according to trial testimony.

Two witnesses picked his picture out of a police photo array.

A jury first convicted him in March 2023 on all charges — murder, manslaughter in the second degree and two illegal gun charges.

On the day of the verdict, however, Navarette asked prosecutors about reward money that he was told he could get after he testified at trial. A Nassau County prosecutor recalled that Navarette had made several requests for financial reward, but the office had failed to tell defense lawyer Jason Russo, a requirement under state trial rules.

Russo appealed the verdict and Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty agreed, setting aside the verdict and calling the prosecutors’ omission “troubling.”

Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly’s office retried the case, beginning two weeks ago. Again, on the first day of testimony, yet another instance of the witness being offered reward money emerged.

The judge denied Russo’s request for a mistrial, but allowed the defense lawyer additional time to interview the witness and told the jury that the delay was caused by the prosecution.

After five days of deliberation, the jury came back with their verdict just before 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Juror Tony Crowder, 54, of Freeport, told Newsday after the verdict that his reservations about the case caused the split verdict.

“I was the last one holding out,” he said. “I told everyone the first day that I wouldn’t do murder.”

He said that he didn’t feel that there was enough evidence to prove Maldonado shot Gonzalez-Sanchez.

“There were two issues,” he said. “No one saw the actual shooting and it could have been self-defense. They were outnumbered and members of the party followed them out to the parking lot.”

Still, Crowder said prosecutors proved that Maldonado was at the party and that he had the gun. He said that testimony regarding the reward money that Navarette had requested did not have a big impact on the deliberations.

“Nah, that didn’t make a difference,” he said. “His friend was murdered. He was going to testify. I can understand that. If it weren’t for the reward money, he would still testify.”

Russo said that he was disappointed by the verdict.

“I’m appreciative that they agreed that this wasn’t a murder,” he said. “One thing that I can assure everyone, we will be filing a notice to appeal. There are numerous issues and grounds for appeal.”

Maldonado, who could have received up to 40 years to life in prison for the murder charge, now faces up to 25 years in prison for manslaughter and 15 years for the gun conviction when he is sentenced Aug. 29.

Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

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