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Friday, 15 July 2011

Latin Kings leader was convicted Thursday of ordering a hit on a Lodi woman so she couldn't testify about a gang-related shooting.


10:00 |



After 2 1/2 days of deliberations, jurors found Juan "King Black Rose" Rosario guilty of the attempted murder of Monica Penalba of Lodi in February 2005.

The jurors also convicted him of aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit murder, but they acquitted him of two weapons charges.

Rosario faces up to 20 years in prison on the attempted murder conviction when he is sentenced on Sept. 9.

Rosario, whose courtroom outbursts punctuated his four-week trial in Hackensack and who was at one point kicked out of the courtroom, once again cursed at prosecutors and hurled expletives at detectives after the verdict was read.

The burly state corrections officers who watched him closely throughout the trial hurried him from the courtroom.

"This verdict will certainly be appealed," said Donald Liberman, Rosario's lawyer.

Thursday's verdict concludes a six-year-old case that began when 18-year-old Ralph Pinto of Hasbrouck Heights and a confederate beat and robbed Jose Vega at his South Hackensack home on Feb. 17, 2005.

Vega, a top Latin Kings leader, contacted Rosario, who leads the Passaic chapter of the street gang, and the two organized a revenge crew to kidnap Pinto the next day from a Lodi parking lot, prosecutors said.

The plot failed when Pinto put up a fight and was shot dead.

Penalba was recruited for the attempted kidnapping because she had a car, prosecutors said. But once Pinto was killed, Rosario decided that Penalba had to be killed because she was not a "Latin Queen" and might talk to police, prosecutors said.

A few hours later, a group of gang members and wannabe gang members took Penalba to a Paterson carwash, where they stabbed her 32 times and ran her over twice with her own car. Penalba survived the attack but underwent months of intensive treatment.

Rosario, 50, was not present when Penalba was attacked, but prosecutors charged him as an accomplice to the stabbing and presented witnesses who testified that the attack ultimately was his call.

"I am happy that despite the fact that he was not present at the scene, the jury was able to navigate through the difficult concepts of accomplice and co-conspirator liability in finding him guilty," said Catherine Fantuzzi, an assistant Bergen County prosecutor.

One of the admitted stabbers, Russell Aquino of Fair Lawn, testified during the trial that, as a wannabe gang member, he volunteered to stab Penalba and plunged a knife into her several times.

Aquino, who has since pleaded guilty of attempted murder and faces up to 14 years in prison, said Rosario was so happy with his performance that he "crowned" him as a Latin King.

Rosario, meanwhile, was not happy with that testimony.

"I will see you in prison, kid," he shouted in court. "You are dead, [expletive.]"

That threat in open court got Rosario thrown out of the courtroom. He attended his trial the next day through audio-visual equipment while sitting in a cell at the Bergen County Jail.

The threat also earned Rosario a first-degree witness-intimidation charge, which Fantuzzi announced Thursday.


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