The BRONX — Twenty-five years to life is better than 40 years to life.
That’s part of the legal thinking behind a recent move by the attorney for convicted "Junior" killer Jonaiki Martinez Estrella.
Defense lawyer Kyle Watters filed a motion this past Friday, just as the long Labor Day weekend was starting, asking Judge Robert Neary to set aside Martinez Estrella's conviction for conspiracy in the second degree.
Martinez Estrella and four other members of the Trinitarios gang were convicted June 14 of murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, manslaughter, conspiracy and gang assault in the fatal 2018 stabbing of Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz—every count that prosecutors threw at them.
The killers all face the possibility of life without parole, although their lawyers are hoping they will get the lesser sentence of 25 years to life, opening up the chance for them to leave prison one day.
The reason behind the motion to dismiss the conspiracy conviction: The judge could conceivably decide to sentence the killers to 15 years for conspiracy, which could be served after the murder sentence. That could add up to 40 years to life.
Watters argued during the trial that conspiracy to kill Junior or anyone else wasn't proven, but the judge denied a motion to dismiss the count.
Now he wants his arguments on the record again.
"I believe they didn't prove the elements of this part of the crime," Watters told PIX11 by phone Thursday morning.
Watters acknowledges in the court papers that his client, Martinez Estrella, inflicted Junior's fatal neck wound that "perforated his jugular vein."
But he also notes in the documents, "Their mission was an assault, not to kill...there was no mutually shared intent," that would factor into a conspiracy conviction.
Watters writes, "Their intent was only to superficially wound and not kill him," adding Guzman-Feliz suffered "little physical injury"—noting Junior mostly had superficial puncture wounds, "most no bigger than a pea."
The attorney for convicted Junior killer Jose Muniz—who infamously wielded a machete during the gang attack outside a Bronx bodega—also filed court papers seeking for the conspiracy conviction to be thrown out.
Sentencing for the five defendants convicted of killing Junior—Elvin Garcia, Manuel Rivera, Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, Jose Muniz, and Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago—has already been delayed twice this summer.
The current sentencing date is set for Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Several of the Junior killers have gotten into trouble behind bars, with Muniz accused of assaulting a New York City Correction Officer, and Rivera, 19, sent to the hospital last month after having a bad reaction to the drug K2, a synthetic cannabinoid that’s smoked like marijuana.