Yesterday a Manhattan judge threw the book at Joel Herrera, a 20-year-old Latin Kings gangster convicted of killing Glenn Wright in the Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side almost three years ago. Herrera was convicted last month of Manslaughter in the First Degree and Gang Assault in the First Degree; yesterday he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, the maximum sentence. Herrara's first trial ended in a mistrial, and while he was not convicted of murder, the sentence is on par with what he would have received had he been convicted of murder.
As was proven at trial, Herrera and two other men, members of the Latin Kings gang, mistook Wright for someone else and stabbed him in the neck on September 12th, 2009. Wright, a 21-year-old who lived in Harlem, had been taking a break from washing his grandmother's windows at the Baruch Houses. Wright's father Peter witnessed his son's murder, and tackled one of the suspects after a chase. He later told the News, "I saw guys running and I ran after them. Then I saw my son. He was at the right place at the wrong time. He lost so much blood."
Wright was enrolled in Borough of Manhattan Community College, and spent most of his time caring for his teenage brother, who has Down syndrome. In high school, Wright had distinguished himself by participating in an after-school robotics team that went to the national finals. His teacher told the Times, "In this profession, you’re not supposed to have favorites, but he was probably my favorite."
Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. issued a statement saying, "A promising young man with a bright future lost his life as a result of the defendant’s actions. While this conviction cannot return a beloved son, brother, and grandson to his family, justice is served in seeing one of the perpetrators of this horrible crime receive this sentence. We thank the jury for its service on this serious case." And Glenn's father, Peter, read this statement before the sentencing:
My son, Glenn meant the world to me. He was my best friend. We were Saturday buddies and would go grocery shopping together every weekend at Pathmark or Trader Joe’s. We would talk about nutrition and he would tell me what was good for me to eat and what wasn’t good for me. He always wanted to make sure everyone ate healthy foods. That shows just how caring he was. If you ever needed anything he was there to help you. He was handy and could fix things. He would cook healthy meals for me. And he helped out the kids in EHTP and at the robotics program.
Most of all I was proud that he was a very well-mannered kid and stayed out of trouble. Had his life not been taken away I know that Glenn would still be helping people. I saw him also becoming a good father and a good husband. He was going to become something special in life. This is a big loss for the family, his friends and me. Glenn’s murder has left me in shock and devastation.
I never thought it would happen to a kid like that. It doesn’t seem real. I know he is gone but it doesn’t seem real. It is something that will be with me the rest of my life. I feel like I have two lives; 21 years with him and now going on 3 years without him. I want the judge to give Herrera life in jail. He took a life so he should get life. He disrespected the law and the Bible, which says, thou shalt not kill. I know that Glenn can’t be brought back to this earth but at least we can have real justice for my son.
And Glenn's brother Peter “Souleo” Wright read this poem, followed by his statement:
I lie on the sheets where you shared your innocence with the pretty girl
down the block, ate your favorite cereal in bed, took a nap after a long day,
your warmth still felt here but your body
I shiver and say it’s ok
I stare at the table, yeah you know, the one I used to say was junky and
scattered with the remnants of your life: the skateboard, the flash drive, the
teddy bear, the camera, the Wii remote, the ring of honey roasted peanut
residue inside the black bowl, these things are still here…waiting…but you
I sigh and say it’s ok
In the corner there’s the metal skull head I hated, on the wall the medals
you earned that made me so proud to say, “yeah, that’s my brother,” …on
the floor your dirty laundry…the bag sits folded over, tilted to the side, the
weight overbearing, the center punched in…this picture of my heart
I turn away and say it’s ok
Alone in my room, the one we used to share…the air breathes ragged
without the peace of your presence, the walls crack under pressure of an
emptiness of a solitude of nothingness
No matter what you always said, “Don’t worry, everything will be ok.”
Now I have no choice
When I'm asked how I am, nothing else I can say
Through teary eyes except
For me writing this poem was a reminder of the potential of my brother. He was a young man on the cusp of blooming. The day of his murder we were to meet up for a photography shoot for a client of mine. It was my chance to see my brother in action and on one of his first professional photography gigs. But that opportunity was robbed from both of us. I often think what else could have become of Glenn?
He was a mentor to youth in the community. He was a politically active volunteer. He was a guardian for our brother with Down syndrome. He was an immensely creative, compassionate and fearless leader. The truth is there are many Glenn’s. Innocent young men and women coming of age until suddenly an ignorant and foolish episode of gang violence take their lives away. For the families they leave behind there will never be justice. Justice would be an impossible act of reversal to return them to the physical form.
However what there can be is hope. I believe in the hope that the court’s sentencing today will send a powerful message to Herrera’s fellow gang members and other violent offenders that there is no leeway for the taking of an innocent life. You cannot walk in here with a suit on, sit up straight and think that suddenly makes you a gentlemen and not a ruthless thug. You cannot take the stand and lie on the names of the innocent. You cannot avoid what you did since it will forever haunt you until you become fully conscious and remorseful of the devastating impact of your actions. You cannot kill someone and expect to go home as if nothing ever happened in a matter of a few short years. Years that are now stolen from Glenn and the countless other victims of gang violence.
We don’t have years and we don’t have justice but with the court’s help today we can have hope and faith that these actions will not go unpunished to their full potential so that others headed down similar wayward paths may think twice before they take yet another innocent life full of rich and infinite possibilities.