Nassau County DA Intentionally Withheld Exculpatory Evidence in Murder Case, Records Show

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Max Power

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Nassau District Attorney Seal # 2

The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office deliberately withheld information from the defense that the only eyewitness to a homicide expected to receive a $5,000.00 reward in exchange for his testimony, according to court records. Junior Maldonado, who was found guilty of Murder in the Second Degree based on this eyewitness, is seeking a new trial after this information came to light the day after his verdict, March 17, 2023.

On August 16, 2020, Alexis Gonzalez-Sanchez was shot and killed at a party in Westbury, Nassau County, New York after a melee involving 30-40 people broke out. His friend Jerry Navarette saw a man waving a gun at the crowd shortly before the shooting, but did not see the shooting itself. When police arrived, Navarette gave a generic description of the man with the gun – a Hispanic male in his early 20s, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

With few leads, four days after the shooting the Nassau County Police sought help from the public and advertised a CrimeStoppers reward of $5,000.00 for information regarding the shooting.

Six days after the $5,000.00 reward was posted, Navarette, who had recently had a baby with his wife, received a call from a Nassau County detective who asked him to come in and “identify somebody.” Within hours, Navarette was at the office of the Homicide Squad of the Police Department, given some photographs, and asked to “pick one out” by the detective. Navarette picked out Junior Maldonado, who was a teenager. As a result of that identification, Junior Maldonado was indicted for Murder in the Second Degree and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree.

Fast forward to March, 2022. Kirk Sendlein, a seasoned Assistant District Attorney from the Queens District Attorney’s Office Homicide Unit, took a job at the Homicide Unit at the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. Almost a year passed until he started to review the file – February, 2023 – one month before the scheduled trial.

Sendlein called Navarette to introduce himself, and the first thing Navarette asked about was the $5,000.00. Sendlein called the same detective who had asked Navarette to make the identification, and the detective confirmed that there was, in fact, a $5,000.00 reward. Sendlein called Navarette back and told him that the $5,000.00 reward would only come after the trial (and Navarette’s testimony) and that he would have to claim the money at the Nassau County Police Department. Court records show that Navarette asked Sendlein about the reward money at least twice prior to the trial, including once in person.

Court records show Sendlein never turned over this information to Junior Maldonado’s attorney, Jason L. Russo, of Garden City. You can read the defense memorandum to the Court HERE:

People v. Junior Maldonado – Indictment # 70208-20 – Defendant’s Post-Hearing Memorandum In Support of Defendant’s Motion to Set Aside the Verdict

The case proceeded to a jury trial on March 6, 2023. Navarette was the star witness for the District Attorney, and the only witness to identify Maldonado as the person with the gun. The gun was never found, and there was no forensic evidence that Maldonado committed the crime. Russo’s defense was mistaken identity; he cross-examined Navarette with inconsistencies with his version of events on the night of the incident. But unaware of the $5,000.00 reward, Russo was never abole to present that information to the jury.

During deliberations, the jury requested Navarette’s testimony to be read back to them. Apparently relying on the star witness’s testimony, the jury found Maldonado guilty on all counts on March 16, 2023.

The day after the verdict, Sendlein called Navarette to tell him the good news, and Navarette immediately asked about his $5,000.00 reward. Sendlein promised him he would contact the Nassau County Police Department on Navarette’s behalf about the reward, and called the case detective, who gave him the information on how to collect the reward.

Sendlein apparently had a change of heart, and emailed Judge Helene Gugerty, who presided over the trial, and carbon copied defense attorney Jason L. Russo, disclosing for the first time Navarette’s interest in collecting the $5,000.00 reward. In the email, he also said that he did not believe the information was relevant because Navarette had identified Maldonado to police and had previously testified that Maldonado was the shooter in the Grand Jury. He wrote that he was only disclosing it after the trial in “an abundance of caution.”

That late disclosure sparked a motion for a new trial, and a hearing on November 28, 2023, in which Assistant District Attorney Kirk Sendlein found himself on the witness stand explaining his failure to disclose Navarette’s $5,000.00 demands.

In 1963, the United States Supreme Court ruled that in every criminal case the prosecution must turn over “exculpatory” information; that is information that is favorable or helpful to the defense, even if it is only information that can be used to challenge a witness’s credibility. Prosecutors are specifically trained that this evidence – called Brady evidence – must be turned over even if the defense lawyer is unaware it exists, or even if the defense does not request it. The Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in New York) have repeatedly said that if this information is withheld, even unintentionally, from the defense, the conviction must be thrown out. Both Courts have also repeatedly said that it is the prosecutor’s duty to find out if any favorable evidence exists, and to promptly turn it over.

In 2020, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department issued a two-year suspension for Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock for intentionally withholding Brady evidence in a murder case. In the Kurtzrock matter, the prosecutor claimed that he did not believe that the evidence was relevant because the police had concluded that the defendant he was prosecuting was the perpetrator, not a third party identified by an eyewitness.

In 2021, the New York State Legislature enacted a sweeping reform of the criminal discovery statutes, requiring prosecutors to turn over all evidence automatically – including Brady evidence – early in the case. Under the recent law, prosecutors are required to certify, in writing, to the court that they have complied with this requirement.

In the Junior Maldonado case, it is undisputed that Assistant District Attorney Kirk Sendlein never disclosed Navarette’s repeated demands for $5,000.00. Sendlein certified to Judge Gugerty in writing 1 week before trial that all evidence – including Brady evidence – had been turned over to the defense.

At the November hearing, Sendlein testified that he did not think that Navarette’s interest in the money was relevant. He also said that he turned over the information after the trial because he believed it was the defense attorney’s job to investigate whether Navarette had an interest in the outcome of the case or getting paid for his testimony – not his.

You can read the transcripts of the hearing HERE:

People v. Junior Maldonado – Indictment # 70208-20 – Transcripts of 330 Hearing 11-28-2023

Defense attorney Jason L. Russo, a former prosecutor himself, said he had never seen such a situation in 26 years of the practice of law. “This case hinges on the credibility of an incredible witness. Had I known Navarette was either promised $5,000.00 or expected to be paid for his testimony, I would have made that the centerpiece of my cross-examination for the jury, and they would have seen this case for what it is – a gross miscarriage of justice.”

Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly has opposed Maldonado’s motion for a new trial, and defendant Sendlein’s actions, echoing the same arguments made by Glenn Kurtzrock. Her office was contacted but has not responded with any comment on the case.

A decision is currently pending in the Nassau County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, before the Honorable Helene Gugerty, People v. Junior Maldonado, Indictment # 70208-20.

If Judge Gugerty grants the motion, a new trial is likely. If she denies the motion, Maldonado will face a minimum of 15 years to life imprisonment, and a maximum of 25 years to life imprisonment. Junior Maldonado remains incarcerated in the Nassau County Jail since his arrest in 2020, his future unclear. Kirk Sendlein is still in the Homicide Bureau, handling other cases. What consequences he will face, if any, are unclear.


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