One Fatal Hour in Brighton Beach

The time was a little past 2 a.m. on June 27, 2014. Alberto Munive-Torres, 27, was standing beside a Pakistani food cart at the corner of Brighton Fifth Avenue and Brighton Beach Avenue, not knowing that he was living the last minutes of his life.

Just an hour later, at 3:04 a.m., he died at Coney Island Hospital, with a three-inch stab wound to his upper right chest, a collapsed right lung and close to a liter of blood in his right chest cavity, according to the testimony of Dr. Foriano Persechino, the medical examiner who examined Munive-Torres’ body.

At 2:40 a.m., just 20 minutes after witnesses called 911, police arrested Jonathan Mansilla, 26, a few blocks away from the crime scene, according to the testimony of Det. Michael Giudice, the police officer who made the arrest. On Nov. 7, 2016, Mansilla was sentenced to 23 years to life for second-degree murder.

A mugshot of Jonathan Mansilla. (Photo courtesy of Brooklyn District Attorney’s office)

That night started with the portent of violence. Earlier, Mansilla had come to a yard where one of his acquaintances, Leonardo Cobamas, and several others were drinking, Cobamas testified. Mansilla took out the knife he was carrying in the yard, saying he wanted to stab someone named “Pachukay.” But when someone else at the yard said, “Why don’t you just stick me?” Mansilla did nothing and joined the group in drinking, Cobamas recalled at the trial.

After drinking three bottles of beer, Mansilla and Cobamas went out to a pizzeria for pizza and more beer. Cobamas testified that he heard Mansilla declare his affiliation to a local gang, Esquadron, and demanded respect from those who work at the pizzeria. A photo taken at Coney Island Hospital after Mansilla was arrested shows a tattoo that says “Esquado” on his hand.

Soon after Mansilla and Cobamas returned from a walk on the beach, they came across Munive-Torres waiting for his food at Brighton Fifth Avenue, Cobamas said at the trial.

Nelson Murcia-Paz, a friend of Munive-Torres, was buying tacos at a nearby food cart. He saw Mansilla and Munive-Torres start talking. “He [Mansilla] just asked him [Munive-Torres], what the other one [Munive-Torres], what gang he [Munive-Torres] belonged to,” Murcia-Paz said in the courtroom.

“Don’t scare me even though you were locked up,” Cobamas recalled Munive-Torres responded.

The conversation quickly escalated into an argument. Mansilla threw the first punch, and the two immediately started fighting, Murcia-Paz testified.

Munive-Torres was 5-foot-7 and weighed 217 pounds, according to the medical examiner in the case, much bigger than Mansilla, who was described as “small” by Murcia-Paz at the trial. Seconds into the fight, Munive-Torres picked Mansilla up and threw him on the ground, Murcia-Paz testified.

Getting back on his feet, Mansilla still looked angry but he extended his hand to Munive-Torres, said Murcia-Paz. “As if he [Mansilla] was saying I am sorry, to like forget about it,” Murcia-Paz added.

Just as Munive-Torres was shaking Mansilla’s hand, Mansilla took the opportunity to hit him. In reaction, Munive-Torres picked Mansilla up again, slammed him onto the ground and kicked him three times, Murcia-Paz said at the trial. “I told him [Munive-Torres] to leave,” Murcia-Paz said. “He listened to me … First he grabbed his bike and crossed the street first.”

Punches and being thrown to the ground twice did not stop Mansilla, even though they injured his right arm, according to Giudice’s testimony. Instead, Mansilla stood up, exchanged a few words that included the word “knife” with Cobamas in a mixture of English and Spanish, and began pursuing Munive-Torres along Brighton Fourth Avenue with a knife in his right hand, testified Murcia-Paz and Mohammed Mansoor, a witness who is an Uber driver.

Mansilla soon caught up with Munive-Torres and the moment Munive-Torres turned back to look, Mansilla plunged the knife into his right chest, testified Faustino De Olmos, a friend of Munive-Torres who witnessed the stabbing. Munive-Torres pedaled twice on his bicycle, and then collapsed into the street, Olmos said at the trial.

Mansilla did not stop there—he came close to Munive-Torres, who was bleeding and not moving, and kicked him in the face several times, testified Murcia-Paz and Olmos. “I told him [Mansilla] to leave him [Munive-Torres] alone, because he had already killed him,” said Murica-Paz at the trial. Those kicks, according to the testimony of the medical examiner, left several abrasions to Munive-Torres’ face.

“Let’s go, my hand hurts,” Cobamas recalled Mansilla saying to him after stabbing Munive-Torres.

All witnesses at the scene except for Cobamas, who was with Mansilla, called the police. In 20 minutes, Giudice and Sgt. John Espey identified Mansilla at the corner of Neptune Avenue and Brighton Fourth Avenue, with blood stains on his shirt and his right arm folded at the elbow, Giudice testified. “He appeared to have some sort of disability, if you would say, with his right arm. It was not swinging.”

“Police, don’t move,” Giudice said to Mansilla, who stopped and waited. Giudice then proceeded to grab his arm to handcuff him. “The defendant screamed as to some sort of pain, perhaps ouch,” said Giudice at the trial.

As Giudice was handcuffing Mansilla, Mansilla turned his head around and said in Spanish, “He [Munive-Torres] provoked me. Check the cameras at the Bank of America on Brighton Fifth Street,” Giudice recalled in the courtroom.

At the trial, Giudice said as he was placing Mansilla into a police van, which came some time later, Mansilla turned around and said in Spanish, “Shut up. Don’t tell them anything.” The only civilian around at that time, Giudice said, was Cobamas.

This was not Mansilla’s first felony offense. In May 2013, he spent almost a year in jail for first-degree robbery. Just one month out of prison, he “went right back on the street, acting around like a gang banger,” said Justice Vincent Del Giudice at the sentencing.

When the case went into trial in 2016, Mansilla’s attorney, Terence J. Sweeney, tried to argue that under the influence of alcohol, Mansilla only had the intent to seriously injure the victim but did not have the intent to kill and that Mansilla should be convicted of manslaughter instead of murder. The Assistant District Attorney, Olatokunbo Olaniyan, however, convinced the jury that Mansilla had a clear intent to kill.

“How can it be that you are so impacted by the alcohol that you can’t form intent to commit a crime, you are able to decide to put out a defense when you interact with the police, that are able to already start telling witnesses to keep their mouth shut?” said Olaniyan in her closing argument.

Mansilla’s injured arm, Olaniyan added, must have made the pursuit and stabbing very difficult, but he still did it, with extra effort and the determination to kill. It took the jury just two hours to find him guilty of second-degree murder.

Mansilla was sentenced on Nov. 7, 2016. Carlos Munive-Torres, Alberto Munive-Torres’ older brother, said at the sentencing that he and his family, who were still in Mexico, were greatly affected by what happened. “My mother and my sister now have a bad health condition, ever since my brother Alberto died,” he said.

Carlos Munive-Torres also asked for the highest possible sentence for Mansilla. “A person such as the defendant does not have the right to be out on the street causing harm to those who are working people, such as my brother was,” he said. “And I ask for the maximum sentence so that he does not, he is not able to continue to hurt other people.”

But even then Mansilla still did not change his plea. “On that day I simply was intoxicated. I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he told the court.

Justice Del Giudice did not believe Mansilla’s plea. “You weren’t drunk,” he told Mansilla at the sentencing. “The jury saw right through that. You are a stone-cold killer.”

“I would like to see you rehabilitated. But I severely doubt it,” Justice Giudice continued. “The longer I keep you in a cage, the safer the rest of society is from you.”