The second day in the retrial of a Bronx gang member charged with killing a 10-year-old girl and paralyzing another Bronx man began with pointed cross examination of the defendant’s St. James Boys associate, the prosecution’s key witness.
Enrique Sanchez, stony and monosyllabic, recalled very little about the shootings or their aftermath in his nearly three-hour testimony in Bronx Supreme Court yesterday. On trial is Edgar Morales, who is being charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and possession of a deadly weapon for the 12-year-old incident.
Morales’s original trial gained fame when the Bronx District Attorney charged him in 2007 with a slew of offenses, including terrorism for “striking fear in the hearts of residents and business owners.” Morales, now 32, became the first lone gang member convicted under the new terrorism statute that was passed days after the 9/11 attacks. The charge that was accompanied by a stiffer jail sentence was overruled as overreaching by the State’s Court of Appeals two years ago. It then ordered a new trial.
The original crime took place on the evening of August 17, 2002, when the St. James Boys street gang erupted into an argument that turned fatal at a christening celebration at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran church in Parkchester. Ten-year-old Melanny Mendez died after a stray bullet struck her in the back of the head. Javier Tocchimani, a rival gang member, was paralyzed after being shot three times.
Both Morales and Sanchez were present at the scene of the crime. Sanchez told the court he was drunk at the time of the incident and that he only saw someone get hit by the bullet.
Morales’ defense team attempted to discredit Sanchez’s testimony by making references to conflicting accounts he has given over the last seven years in court, in interviews, and to detectives as far away as Arizona. Sanchez’s primary response to a majority of the questions asked during cross examination was, “I don’t remember.”
Eventually the defense asked, “Is your entire story about Edgar Morales doing the shooting a total fabrication?” Sanchez replied with the familiar, “I don’t remember.”
Sanchez was arrested in March 2004 for possession of a .38-caliber handgun. He was later indicted by the Bronx District Attorney for second degree murder charges in the shooting outside St. Paul’s Church and was facing between 15 years to life in prison. The DA’s office offered to lower the charges in exchange for Sanchez’s cooperation in Morales’ 2007 trial. He eventually served seven years in jail for manslaughter and was released in the beginning of 2011.
A few days prior to his release, Sanchez told the court, he was visited in prison by a pair of investigators and a pair of attorneys, all of them working on the Morales case. He claimed they wanted Sanchez “to help them out, for Edgar.” Sanchez testified that he was assured confidentiality in exchange for his cooperation.
“They were harassing me too much already,” said Sanchez. When asked by the defense if he remembered becoming emotional during the investigators’ visit, saying he did not want Morales to face time away from his child, Sanchez replied, “I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember breaking down?” Attorney Matthew Fishbein asked. “Is that something you could forget?”
The prosecution, which was led by Assistant District Attorney Christine Scaccia, said its office had worked with Sanchez for nearly ten years and believed that he gave a reliable account of what went down on August 17, 2002. A member of the team added that the St. James Boys gang had been terrorizing the Mexican-American community in St. James Park in Fordham for years through intimidation, murder, drug activities, and other gang-related violence.
Mendez’s mother, Antonia Gutierrez, was present in court. She hoped for the sentencing to rule in favor of the prosecution and to see Morales “stay in jail.”