Tag Archive | "Bronx Supreme Court"

Teen sentenced to five months in jail for killing a Bronx father with a single punch

The family of a Bronx hospital worker who died after a teenager sucker-punched him was dismayed Wednesday when the judge sentenced the assailant to five months in prison on a misdemeanor charge. Although the family wished to press for a manslaughter conviction, current law does not allow for criminal charges when death is caused by a single punch. Elijah Burt, 17, pled guilty last June to assault and harassment misdemeanor charges. The incident occurred on June 21, 2014 at the corner of Thieriot Avenue and Lafayette Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx when Ildefonso Romero Jr., 59, tried to break up a fight among teenagers outside his home. The father of five fell to the ground and remained unresponsive after Burt punched him with a closed fist directly in the face. Romero Jr. was pronounced dead two days later. The victim’s daughter, Jennifer Perez, a 30-year old accountant, read a tribute to her father at the sentencing on October 1 at the Bronx Supreme Court.  Perez told the judge and both families present that  her father, who worked as an institutional aide at Lincoln Hospital for many years, was a "hardworking man that did everything to provide for his family." She spoke of the pain her family has endured over his loss. "The simple opportunity to say, 'I love you' is forever gone,” she said. Addressing Burt directly, she asked, “How much compassion did you have when you decided to put your hands on my father?” Her voice rose as she said, “You may say it wasn’t your intention to end my father’s life, but the intent was there as soon as you chose to viciously hit him.” The defense attorney argued that Burt had no criminal record and his action was “an aberration.” The attorney’s office said it will continue to work with Burt to “ensure the situation never reoccurs.” The defense attorney and Burt’s family members who sat behind the teen during the sentencing, declined to comment. Although Judge William McGuire acknowledged that the charge would not satisfy the family, he sentenced Burt to jail for three weeks shorter than the six-month maximum for his misdemeanor conviction. McGuire claimed the three weeks would place a higher burden on the jail than it would benefit Burt. The Romero family has not yet decided if it would press for an appeal, but members are working with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda and Senator Jeffrey Klein to push for harsher punishments in the future for similar one-punch deaths. Sepulveda arrived immediately after the hearing and said that he and Klein would “see how we can allow a bill to increase penalties,” to elevate the charge from misdemeanor to “negligent homicide.” Community Board Nine chairman William Rivera commiserated with the family and expressed concern at the weak penalties for such serious crimes. He believes “there is an underlying problem” in his community that has enabled high crime rates among teenagers. The youth “get locked up, arrested, and then released.”
The family of victim Ildefonso Romero Jr. outside the Bronx Hall of Justice

The family of victim Ildefonso Romero Jr. outside the Bronx Hall of Justice (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM / The Bronx Ink)

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Grassroots Groups Rally for Open Discovery

Discovery for Justice members rallied in front of the Bronx Supreme Court. (HAN ZHANG / The Bronx Ink)

Protesters rallied for a fairer judicial process in front of the Bronx Supreme Court.                      (HAN ZHANG / The Bronx Ink)

More than 50 people rallied outside the Bronx Supreme Court on Monday morning, demanding changes to New York state law that, they claim, would make the judicial process more just and efficient. The revisions protesters championed would require prosecutors to share evidence they have gathered about a crime with the accused and his or her attorneys during the pre-trial "discovery" period. The rally organizer, the reform group Discovery for Justice, was joined by other advocacy groups, labor unions, public defenders and elected officials. Demonstrators called on the state legislature to repeal Criminal Procedure Law 240, which lays out the current rules under which the prosecution may withhold evidence from the defense until the moment a trial begins. They urged legislators to enact Criminal Procedure Law 245, which, they say, would expand access to information for prosecutors and defenders alike, reduce the high number of false guilty pleas in plea bargains, decrease the possibility of wrongful convictions, and speed up the trial process. New York is one of 13 states that has not adopted  such policies, known as "open discovery." “We need to make sure that our prosecutors and our defense teams are operating on the same playing field,” said City Council member Andy King, who represents District 12, the northeast section of the Bronx, and marched at the front of the demonstration. “It should be about justice. It should be about the truth. Not about who can win a case because winning a case doesn’t always hold the right person accountable.” The council member said he was going to introduce a resolution urging the repeal of Criminal Procedure Law 240 at the City Council meeting on October 7. Over the past 10 years, different versions of the revised law have passed the majority Democratic New York State Assembly, but expired without being taken up by the Republican dominated State Senate, according to public defender Susannah Karlsson. Before Monday's rally started, members of Discovery for Justice gave out out leaflets near Hostos Community College on East 149th Street in the Bronx. The flyers bore an image of a blindfolded man standing in darkness behind bars, his hands gripping them tightly. Bold letters jumped off the page: “Withholding evidence equals injustice. Open and early discovery of evidence equals justice.” Lined up behind a ten-foot-long banner with the image of the blindfolded man on it, marchers left Hostos at 11 a.m. and headed toward the Bronx Supreme Court. They all wore black T-shirts with the same image on it. As they marched, the group chanted in English and Spanish, “The people, united, will never be defeated. El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido." Waving his fist, King led the chants in a booming voice, his white shirt collar and bow tie showing beneath his black T-shirt. About 15 minutes later, the group arrived at the Bronx Supreme Court on East 161st Street. On the steps of the somber, tall courthouse, also known as the Hall of Justice, representatives of unions, clergy members, and veterans gave speeches calling for an end to the injustice and unfair treatment of  innocent people. New Yorkers who had been wrongfully arrested or convicted and their advocates testified about the damages the current system allows and spoke of the urgency of an open discovery law. Jeffrey Deskovic, who was wrongly convicted of rape in 1990 at the age of 17 and was exonerated after 16 years in prison, said that open discovery would have prevented his ordeal. His attorneys never knew that there were three complaints filed against the medical examiner whose fraudulent testimony was key in wrongfully convicting him, Deskovic said. In New York State, from 1963 to 2014, 16.73 per cent of all the cases of exoneration involved people wrongfully convicted because of evidence withheld through lack of open discovery, according to data complied by Dannielle Hille, a member of It Could Happen to You, an advocacy group working against wrongful convictions. Inside the courthouse, Judge Robert Rorres expressed some caution. “I believe in open discovery,” he said, “but we just can’t throw the door full open and turn over every piece of paper. There have to be some common sense and balance.” Judge Rorres said that medical records and material that reveals irrelevant misdemeanors should be handled delicately. Opponents often charge that open discovery would reveal the names of witnesses and expose them to harm. A letter signed by Frank Sedita, the president of the District Attorney Association of the State of New York, asserts that open discovery would be "disastrous, especially given the increasing frequency of witness intimidation.” Public defender Karlsson said the confidentiality issue should not be a hindrance to open discovery. “When there is a safety issue, we defense attorneys will probably consent to holding back sensitive information under certain circumstances,” she said.
 

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No closure in cop sexual assault case

The parents of a Bronx girl who was sexually assaulted 16 months ago by an NYPD officer grimaced in the gallery yesterday when the judge announced that closure would have to wait at least another month. Sentencing was expected Wednesday, Sept. 24, for Modesto Alamo, 38, who pleaded guilty in July to sexually abusing, forcibly touching and endangering the welfare of a 13-year-old girl. Alamo resigned from the police force upon his May 24, 2014 arrest. Instead, Judge Laurence E. Busching of the Bronx Supreme Court said he would issue a sentence and determine Alamo’s sex offender category Oct. 23. Bronx Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Militano petitioned Wednesday for Alamo to be designated a Level 2 sex offender, for “moderate risk or repeat offense,” arguing that his betrayal of a position of trust justified the heightened classification. Defense lawyer Solomon J. Schepps argued that the victim “was the one who established the relationship in the first place” through a series of non-sexual text messages. Schepps also claimed there is no precedent for holding police officers to the higher standard Militano endorsed. He encouraged a Level 1, “low risk,” designation. It has been a “lengthy, stressful, disappointing process,” the victim’s mother said in the hallway after yesterday’s hearing. She added that her daughter, now 15, receives counseling and has changed middle schools since the incidents. Although the parents have been fixtures at Alamo hearings, they said they try to shield their daughter from news of the case. “It is ridiculous that he gets away like it,” said the mother, who sobbed in the courtroom when the prosecutor described the abuse. “He was never in custody.” Alamo arrived in court in a long-sleeve T-shirt and blue jeans, donning a baseball cap upon leaving the courtroom to obscure photographs of his face. Busching denied a special request from The New York Daily News to photograph today’s proceedings. Schepps and Militano declined to comment. In the criminal complaint, the victim is said to have referred to Alamo as her boyfriend. She initially reached out to Alamo for help with a bullying situation at school, Militano said in court and the two exchanged frequent texts for several weeks.The complaint states that Alamo visited her multiple times in her apartment lobby, first on New Year’s Day 2013, where he kissed her and groped her rear end. Alamo also sent the teenager lewd photographs via text. The victim’s mother said outside court Wednesday that it was Alamo who initiated contact in November 2012 when he complimented a picture her daughter had uploaded on Instagram. Alamo is released on bail of $1,500.  

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Bernard Kerik Hovers Over the DiTommaso Perjury Trial

 

Peter DiTommaso appeared relaxed during the first day of proceedings in his trial on perjury charges. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

Prosecutors argued Thursday in Bronx Supreme Court that construction company owners Frank and Peter DiTommaso lied to the grand jury six years ago about paying for renovations to the Riverdale apartment of disgraced former police commissioner Bernard Kerik. “Back in 1999, these defendants thought that Bernard B. Kerik was a big shot, that he had  juice, power and influence,” Stuart Levy, assistant district attorney told the jury on Thursday.  Prosecutors argued that the two brothers used the relationship with Kerik to gain government contracts and licenses. Kerik is scheduled to testify next month. “He will not take responsibility for their actions,” said Levy. Kerik, 57, is serving a 48-month sentence for eight federal crimes, including lying to White House officials when he was being considered to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Frank DiTommaso's attorney opened her defense with a flourish. "I'm tempted to quote 'My Cousin Vinny,'" said Cathy Fleming, referring to the 1992 Hollywood movie starring Joe Pesci. "What he said is BS," she said, waving her hand dramatically toward the prosecutor.  Members of the jury nodded and chuckled. Fleming then held up a poster-sized copy of her client’s indictment, in an attempt to argue that the district attorney's case is based on conspiracy theories. "The prosecutors blurred the timeline, blurred the brothers and blurred the companies,” she said. Frank DiTommaso, 53, is charged with one count of perjury while his brother, Peter DiTommaso, 51, faces two counts. The DiTommasos own the New Jersey-based companies, Interstate Construction, Interstate Drywall and Interstate Materials. Levy told the jury that the cost of the renovations that included a jacuzzi and a marble foyer totaled $255,000. He added that Kerik often complained to his friend Lawrence Ray that his government salary was insufficient to cover living expenses.

Justice John W. Carter ordered the DiTommaso defense attorneys (above) and prosecutors to refrain from issuing public comments. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

Ray loaned money to Kerik for the down payment on his apartment. He was also employed by the DiTommasos from 1998 to 2000 as a business consultant. The defendant’s attorneys also stressed the relationship between Kerik, Ray and the DiTommasos. “How nicely that [Ray] fits in to the prosecutor’s conspiracy theory,” said Michael A. Marinaccio, the attorney for Peter DiTommaso. Ray was convicted of stock manipulation in 2000. The DiTommasos terminated his employment less than a week after his conviction. The trial is expected to resume Friday, Sept. 28, at 10:30 a.m. “I am confident that you will find the defendants not guilty as charged," concluded Levy, "but guilty as proven."

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Bronx Court Officers Honored for Stopping Gunfight near Yankee Stadium

Bronx Bureau President Ruben Diaz, Jr., center, praised court officers for heroic acts beyond their daily duties, including stopping a vendor gunfight in late August.

  It was lunchtime on a sunny day outside Yankee Stadium  last month. Bronx Supreme Court Officer Raymond Mercado had just picked up his Spanish takeout meal when he heard the piercing pops of gunfire and watched a crowd of people fleeing in panic.
 “Everyone was running away from the gunshots," said Mercado, 42. "I was just looking for the shooter.” He was one of six court officers who rushed to the scene Aug. 23 after an angry vendor opened fire on the busy corner of 161st Street and Gerard Avenue. Mercado picked up the revolver the shooter had flung on the sidewalk while his fellow officers chased down the suspect. “We did what we were supposed to do. We acted on our training and we acted as a team.” On Thursday afternoon, Bronx Bureau President Ruben Diaz Jr. honored the court officers for their acts of heroism in a small ceremony inside Diaz’s office in the Bronx County Courthouse on the Grand Concourse. Besides Mercado, Diaz gave accolades to Bronx Criminal Court Officers Paul Tammaro, Vincent Allis and Wascar Herrera, and Civil Court Officers Steve Snyder and Katie Dalton.
“You make your job so effortless that we don’t realize that you’re prepared, you’re trained and you  have the heart and the courage really can take charge of the situation,” Diaz told the officers, who stood side by side in a small conference room while proud family members clapped and captured the moment on their cell phones. Seven family members, mostly siblings, of Officer Katie Dalton, 48, said they were not surprised by their sisters’ bravery.
 "No one messes with Katie,” Dalton's sister, 46-year-old Jennifer Russell, chimed in.

Court Officer Katie Dalton, 48, hugs her sister Thursday shortly after Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. commended her heroism during an Aug. 23 vendor shooting.

The alleged shooter, 52-year-old water stand vendor Horace Coleman, is accused of firing three to six rounds of ammunition  at a newspaper seller after getting into a big argument with him the day before over a turf war, witnesses told The New York Post.
By the time Dalton made it to the shooter, fellow officers had the suspect pinned down on the street, so she scrambled to help the victims. The shooter hit 60-year-old newspaper vendor Douglas Watkins and 41-year-old Clarence “Clay” Pearson in their torsos. Dalton knelt down by Pearson as officers waited for medical aid.
Dalton recalled Pearson saying, "'I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” she said. "I  just tried to keep him calm,  just tried to help him out, to make him feel better.” Pearson died on Aug. 25, and Watkins survived. Coleman, who had sold sunglasses and bottled water, is facing murder charges. Bronx County Administrative Judge Douglas McKeon commended the court officers for helping prevent the erratic gunfight from escalating further.
“Their commitment doesn’t end or begin at the courthouse steps,” McKeon said. “They truly epitomize the kind of characteristics that we need in officers today. When money is tight, they’re asked to do more.” Amid budget shortfalls, the New York State Court system has eliminated more than 1,300 positions through layoffs and attrition over the past few years, including court officers from all ranks. Mercado said he has aided police in a handful of similar scuffles during his eight years in the court’s civil division. He can’t help but feeling a little uneasy these days on his lunch break, and he tries to be extra vigilant as he strolls the crowded thoroughfares near the stadium.
 “It’s a little nerve-racking,” he said. “You don’t feel it while it’s happening; you feel it afterward, and then you start thinking you have a family.” Mercado’s 5-year-old son, Justin, smiled wide as his dad shook Diaz’s hand and accepted his certificate. If he doesn’t cut it as a singer like Justin Bieber, Justin Mercado wants to become a cop or court officer like his father, Mercado’s wife, Jane, said. “He looks up to his dad tremendously,” she said. “It’s exciting for him.”

Court Officer Raymond Mercado strives to be a good role model for his 5-year-old son, Justin.

Thursday’s awards ceremony also honored several other court officers for their acts of heroism in two other incidents. On June 19, Capt. Anthony Manzi, Sgt. Ramon Dominguez and court officers Jose Reyes and Carlos Rivera helped catch a man accused of burglarizing several vehicles in the area. Court Officer Angel Ripolls of the criminal division helped save a 1-year-old who was choking on Sept. 3. “It’s cool for me to know that everyday people who are doing their jobs are here in our borough, and are also our heroes,” Diaz said.

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Castle Hill crack cocaine trade on trial

Three alleged gang members face trial in Bronx Supreme Court for a series of drug crimes in Castle Hill. (CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN, Bronx Ink)

Jury selection continued yesterday for the latest round of a murder and conspiracy case in which prosecutors indicted 25 defendants for a series of crimes related to the crack cocaine trade in the South Bronx. Kalieh McMorris, 23, and two brothers, Khalil Harris, 29 and Shariff Harris, 26, were among the few defendants who did not plead guilty. The three defendants face charges of conspiracy, assault, robbery and murder in Bronx Supreme Court. The court is expected to hear testimony from more than a dozen witnesses in the trial that could last well into December. The prosecution plans to present transcripts from tapped telephone conversations as well as DNA and fingerprint evidence related to the murder of Russell Allen, 24, an alleged drug dealer. Twenty of the original twenty-five defendants pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from a year in jail to 10 to 20 years in prison. McMorris and the Harris brothers pleaded innocent and face at least 15 years in prison if convicted of the top charges against them for conspiracy. Assistant District Attorney Adam Oustatcher said the crimes covered in the indictment began in February 2006, when McMorris allegedly shot two drug dealers at Castle Hill Houses, the same location where Allen was shot dead two years later. Allen’s relatives were in attendance during the jury selection. His cousin, Ashley Jones, said she came to seek justice for her family. “They killed my cousin,” Jones said. “We lost a family member and he’s never going to come back.” McMorris is charged with murder, robbery, assault, conspiring to sell crack cocaine, and using teens under the age of 16 to assist him. Shariff Harris faces robbery, burglary and assault. McMorris’ attorney Cesar Gonzalez said his client should be tried separately from the other defendants, as guilty verdicts against the Harris brothers, who are not charged with murder, might sway the jury on the additional charge against McMorris. “What happens when you knock down one domino?” Gonzalez asked. McMorris’ father, Jude Leon McMorris, said yesterday outside the courtroom that his son was not a murderer and that the DNA and fingerprints would prove that. “He is a good kid,” said Father McMorris, a chaplain at Rikers Island. “He was going to school and doing the right thing. He wasn’t in any gangs.” Father McMorris said his son hadn’t always listened to his parents, but that he had “made peace with God” during the three years he’s spent awaiting trial at Rikers Island, and was well respected there by inmates and guards alike. “He's been planting the seed that gang life is not the right path to take,” Father McMorris said. The case against McMorris and the Harris brothers stems from a six-month wiretapping operation during which 24 lines were tapped and 140,000 phone calls were intercepted. Two more defendants, including a third Harris brother, 28-year-old Hassan, are also awaiting trial. With additional reporting by Steven Graboski

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One suspect in the gruesome gay-bashing crime becomes teen father

Family members comforted each other while waiting outside the courtroom on Thursday. Photo: Yardena Schwartz

Family and friends of suspects in the hate crime waited hours in Bronx Supreme Court for a glimpse of their loved ones. Photo: Yardena Schwartz

Attorneys for eight of the suspects in the Morris Heights, anti-gay hate crime won more delays in court on Thursday, enough time for one of the youngest defendants, Nelson Falu, to become a father while he waited to make his court appearance in handcuffs. Falu, 17, is one of 11 accused in the Oct. 3rd violent gay-bashing case that has captured the city's attention. Falu's 17-year-old girlfriend went into labor on Wednesday night and by Thursday afternoon, she gave birth to a premature, 4-pound boy, Ayden, while her boyfriend made his third court appearance since his arrest on Oct. 9. “He is happy to be a father, but mad that he can’t be there with her,” said Falu’s mother, Caroline Ayala. Along with family and friends of the other suspects, Ayala and her daughter waited outside the courtroom for five hours on Thursday, only for defense attorneys to ask for more time to talk to their clients before they appear in court again on Friday and Monday. A grand jury has begun its investigation, which promises to be lengthy due to the severity of the crime and the number of of suspects arrested. Attorneys on Thursday waived their clients’ rights to walk on current charges and reserved their rights to testify in trial. In buying time, defense attorneys hoped that the grand jury might reduce some of the charges. By Oct. 28, the jury is expected to  vote for or against indictment. “People might just get charged for their role that night,” said Jason Foy, the attorney for 21-year-old David Rivera, outside of the courtroom. “I’d rather them get specific charges, so we’ll let them go ahead with their investigation and see where it goes.” As it stands, the suspects, ranging in age from 16 to 26 are charged with gang assault, sexual abuse, unlawful imprisonment, robbery, and other offenses, all as hate crimes, which carry a more severe penalty. Police said the suspects beat and sodomized a 30-year-old openly gay Bronx man and two 17-year-old boys at 1910 Osborne Place on Oct. 3. The teenage victims were alleged members of the Latin King Goonies, the same gang as the suspects, who accused the teens of having sex with the man known in the neighborhood as “La Reina,” or queen. All of the suspects are now locked up in jail or juvenile detention, except for Ruddy Vargas, 22. Vargas is the only defendant in the case who turned himself into cops and is out on bail. Surrounded by his friends and family outside the courtroom after his appearance, Vargas said, “Only me and god know what happened.” One of the attorneys, John O’Connell, had been prepared to make a bail argument for 16-year-old suspect Brian Almonte, until unexpected legal issues got in his way. In asking the judge for more time with his client, O’Connell said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had put a detainer on Almonte and that he risked being deported. “I don’t know why,” O’Connell said outside the courtroom, adding, “he has a valid green card.” Aside from asserting the innocence of the suspects, family members and attorneys gathered outside the courtroom questioned why the District Attorney’s office was not investigating the 30-year-old victim, who they claim was having sex with boys as young as 16. “I don’t understand why the DA isn’t looking into this man having sex with underage children, and why no one is mentioning that,” said Sanders Denis, the attorney for 23-year-old Idelfonso Mendez. Denis told reporters outside the courtroom that Mendez, who has been painted as the ringleader of the attacks, had known the 30-year-old man for six years and was once friends with him. According to the criminal complaint against him, Mendez kicked and punched the man, then inserted a wooden stick into his rectum, asking him, “Are you a faggot? Do you like this?” Speaking to people outside the courtroom, Denis hinted at things to come. “As this progresses,” he said of his client’s case, “you will hear more facts and the truth will come back. There is more there that people don’t know about.”

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Attorneys for hate crime suspects ask for more time

Ten of 11 defendants connected to the anti-game hate crime attacks appeared in Bronx Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon.

Ten of 11 defendants connected to the anti-gay hate crime attacks appeared in Bronx Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon. Photo: Amara Grautski

Defense attorneys representing 10 of the 11 alleged gang members connected to anti-gay hate crimes requested more time with their clients while appearing in Bronx Supreme Court Thursday afternoon. Lawyers said more time with the defendants, thought to be part of a gang called the Latin King Goonies, would help familiarize them with the facts of the case before pretrial hearings resume next week. Jason Foy, who represents suspect David Rivera, said he had only met his client moments before appearing in front of the judge. “Sometimes everything isn’t clear when an arrest is made like this,” said John O’Connell, the defense attorney for Bryan Almonte. “Maybe someone isn’t as guilty as it appears in the paperwork.” According to O’Connell, Almonte, 16, suffers from diabetes and epilepsy. He said because of this, his client is the only suspect being held in protective custody. Almonte and Rivera were two of the young men, ranging in age from 16 to 26, arrested after allegedly brutalizing two 17-year-old boys and a 30-year-old man, whom they presumed to be gay. The initial attacks took place in the early evening of Oct. 3 at 1910 Osborne Place in Morris Heights. Later that night, some of the suspects robbed and assaulted the eldest victim’s brother in his apartment. Charges against the defendants include abduction, unlawful imprisonment and assault, as hate crimes. The 11th suspect, Luis Garcia, was not apprehended by the New York City Hate Crime Task Force and Special Victims detectives until Thursday at 5 p.m. from his Bronx apartment on Hennessey Place. Although the defendants haven’t been indicted, news of the crimes has provoked outrage among community members, as well as city and state officials. “These suspects had employed terrible wolf pack odds,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a press conference last Friday. “Odds which reveal them as predators whose crimes were as cowardly as they were despicable." But defense lawyers tried to combat generalizations about the defendants. “Not every one of the defendants is going to be indicted,” said Benjamin Heinrich, counsel for Ruddy Vargas. “Ruddy is as appalled as everybody else.” Defense attorneys won’t have a chance to make their case until as early as Oct. 21, when eight of the defendants return to court. Until then, Sanders Denis, the lawyer representing Ildefonso Mendez, hopes the media will let the court system play out before making assumptions. “Stop making him a monster,” Denis said of Mendez to reporters outside the courtroom.There is a system of justice; he is presumed innocent.”

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