The prosecution and the defense have rested their cases in the murder trial of Joel Herrera, the Lower East Side man accused of fatally stabbing Glenn Wright, 20, because he allegedly mistook Wright for someone else. Most of Wednesday was spent on a criminalist with the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, who testified that no blood had been found on a sample from the blade of a knife recovered near the scene of the crime. But both Herrera and Wright's DNA were found on blue jeans, a sneaker and a black t-shirt belonging to Herrera, who claims that he was running home because of a nosebleed when police stopped him that fateful evening back in September 2009.
After testimony ended Wednesday and the jury had been excused, Herrera's attorney, Paul Brenner, argued that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that no witnesses to the murder testified, no weapon had been definitively recovered, and the DNA evidence is "circumstantial." Also circumstantial, according to Brenner, was the statement his client made in police custody: that he went up to Wright, saying, "You like to rob little boys?" Wright did not respond, so Herrera told cops he thought Wright was guilty, and a physical altercation ensued. Herrera also wrote a statement saying that if he had been wrong about the victim being the man who robbed his cousin, he was "very, very sorry."
Prosecutors allege that Herrera is a member of the Latin Kings and had been ordered to stab another man who robbed the son of the Latin Kings' leader. "The theory is Mr. Esquellin [the Latin Kings leader] ordered my client to kill this innocent victim," Brenner told the judge. "My client’s statements show a mere presence, but not that he committed this crime. DNA merely puts him there. It's not direct evidence, just circumstantial at best." Judge Ruth Pickholz denied the motion, ruling, "That’s a jury question."
Herrera's lawyer then angrily called for a mistrial, arguing that Judge Pickholz had treated him "unfairly," that he could not get a fair trial in Pickholz's court, and that the court seemed more determined to "get through it quickly than to give [his] client a fair trial." Pickholz denied this motion for a mistrial as well. The defense had very little to present yesterday (we'll have more details later), and closed in a day. Today both sides will make their closing arguments, then it will be up to a jury to decide if Herrera killed Wright, an East Harlem resident who happened to be at the Baruch Houses to visit his grandmother.
The tragic murder sparked a flood of grief from across the country, according to Wright's family and friends, many of whom have attended every day of the trial. (Some of Wright's friends in the gallery had tattoos with Wright's name and date of death.) Wright's sister Karina Rodriguez has been at the courtroom every day, and tells us, "It’s like my brother died all over again…I get up every day and come here…and to be insulted [by the defense], it’s just not fair. I'm not concerned. I think there is enough for us to get a conviction. I’ve run the gamut of emotions, being here. I just need this to be over."
(Reporting by Rebecca Fishbein)