A gang member who fatally shot an 18-year-old high school student in Roosevelt 13 years ago in what prosecutors said was an effort to gain "street cred" faced a Nassau judge Thursday in the killing.
Wuilmer Mendosa, 32, who prosecutors said is a member of the MS-13 street gang, spoke through an interpreter and pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder of Johnathan Harris at his arraignment in Nassau County Court. Mendosa was ordered held without bail.
Mendosa, who fled to El Salvador immediately after the killing, was arrested in Texas on May 5 as he tried to re-enter the United States and was taken into custody by federal marshals, officials said.
Mendosa's court-appointed attorney Brian Carmody of Westbury said he had just been assigned the case and had no comment.
"Mr. Mendosa is an MS-13 gang member, and at that time, like many gang members, he was looking for street cred," acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said after the arraignment, referring to violent acts gang members engage in to prove themselves. "And unfortunately when gang members look for street cred, people end up dead."
Harris' mother, Lorna Matthews, 54, of Hempstead, said by phone the family is "full of joy" that Mendosa will finally face justice.
"It's like God just shined a light down," she said. "It might have taken years and years -- 13 years later -- it's worth it."
Nakia Matthews, 38, of Roosevelt, described her brother as "bubbly" and "caring with a loving heart." Of Mendosa, she said: "I'm glad they finally got this coward."
On Oct. 24, 2002, about 9:38 p.m., Mendosa, also known as "Chicky," was on East Raymond Street in Roosevelt with other gang members when they saw Harris, who was on a bicycle with two friends, prosecutors said.
The gang members -- armed with bats, knives and a gun -- asked Harris, who had celebrated his 18th birthday five days earlier, if he was a member of the rival "Bloods" gang, prosecutors said. Harris said, "No."
Mendosa then shot him four times -- twice in the chest, once in the abdomen and through his right arm, prosecutors said. He died a short time later.
Mendosa and the other gang members fled in a nearby waiting vehicle, prosecutors said. He discarded the gun, borrowed money and quickly left the country, prosecutors said.
"We looked for this defendant for nearly 13 years . . . ," Singas added. "Let this be a lesson to criminals: We work closely with our law enforcement partners, and we will find you."