A jury in Manhattan quickly convicted an 18-year-old man of two counts of second-degree murder yesterday for the slaying of an East Harlem bodega owner in what the police said was a cocaine-inspired rampage that left five people dead and six others wounded last year.
The defendant, Leslie Torres, had contended that his addiction to crack made him insane at the time and thus not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
But Justice Herbert I. Altman of State Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Torres's addiction was no defense against the felony murder count against him, and the jury deliberated for only 19 minutes before finding Mr. Torres guilty of both felony and intentional murder.
Mr. Torres, who was homeless at the time of the murder, remained impassive yesterday as the jury forewoman said ''guilty'' to every charge.
He was convicted of what the prosecution called the execution-style shooting of Pablo Rojas, the owner of a bodega at 169 East 106th Street on Jan. 7, 1988, and attempted murder for shooting a part-time employee, Juan Corona, in the eye. Mr. Corona has been blind ever since.
Faces 4 More Murder Charges
Mr. Torres was charged with felony murder because the slaying occurred during a robbery, and intentional murder because, the prosecution contended, he meant to kill Mr. Rojas. Mr. Torres was also convicted of robbery, and the criminal possession of an unlicensed gun.
He still faces murder charges in the death of four other people during the seven-day rampage in January 1988.
Jurors interviewed after the verdict said they had quickly rejected Mr. Torres's defense. ''There was no insanity at all,'' said one juror, Robert Booher, an insurance broker.
Another, Hunter Brown, said: ''There was no proof he took cocaine or crack. If he did, the fact that a man is intoxicated does not absolve him of the crime.''
Prosecutors say that as the crack epidemic in New York City grows, use of the drug is increasingly being introduced by defendants in homicide cases as grounds for an insanity plea.
Justice Altman said he would consolidate the four other murder charges against Mr. Torres in a future trial. That trial, as well as sentencing on yesterday's convictions, has not been scheduled.
Defense Called 'Nonsense'
Mr. Torres faces 25 years to life imprisonment on the murder charges and another eight and a third years for attempted murder.
In her summation yesterday, Kristine Hamann, an assistant Manhattan District Attorney, described Mr. Torres's contention that crack had made him insane as ''unaldulterated nonsense.''
''This was an execution in the name of crack,'' she said.
Under the law, the voluntary use of illicit drugs cannot be used as a defense against felony murder.
Ms. Hamann said the only time cocaine could be used as a basis for an insanity plea was when its use made a defendant ''so high that he could not form intent,'' a key element needed for conviction for intentional murder.
Called 'Cool and Deliberate'
Ms. Hamann repeatedly described Mr. Torres's actions in the robbery of the bodega and his attempt to escape from the police afterward as ''cool and deliberate.''
''What is more intentional than shooting someone in the back of the head?'' she asked. ''The evidence screams out that this defendant knew what he was doing and that it was wrong.''
Mr. Torres's lawyer. Gary Greenberg, said his client was ''insane when he pulled the trigger,'' killing Mr. Rojas and wounding Mr. Corona.
He also said the fact that Mr. Torres kicked the victims after shooting them was further ''bizarre'' proof of the defendant's state of mind and more evidence to his being a ''slave to cocaine.''
Cocaine Psychosis Asserted
An expert psychiatric witness for the defense described Mr. Torres's mental state at the time of the shootings as a ''cocaine-induced psychosis.''
Mr. Torres, who made a videotaped statement to the police in which he said he committed numerous murders and robberies to support his $500 a day crack habit, said when he took the stand in the three-week trial that he had ''no recall'' of the shootings.
He also said that cocaine made him feel like God, but that it also made him see the devil when he looked into a mirror.
The prosecution contends that from Jan. 1 to Jan. 8, Mr. Torres committed one of the most murderous crime rampages in New York City's recent criminal history.
By the time Mr. Torres entered Mr. Rojas's small store at 8:30 on the night of Jan. 7, he had already killed three victims during the robbery spree, prosecutors say. Pulling out a .22-caliber revolver, Mr. Torres shot Mr. Rojas in the neck. Despite pleas by Mr. Corona to take the money and leave, the police said, Mr. Torres shot him in the eye and then shot the prostrate Mr. Rojas in the back of the head.
The next night, the police said, Mr. Torres killed a fifth victim before being captured by the police on a tenement rooftop near 116th Street and Third Avenue after a 20-minute chase.
A Crack Addict, 17, Is Held in the Killings Of Five Since Jan. 1
By Esther Iverem - The New York Times
January 10, 1988
A 17-year-old, described by the police as a crack addict, was charged yesterday with killing five people and wounding six others in a series of robberies in East Harlem that began on New Year's Day.
In some cases, the police said, the shootings and robberies occurred within minutes of each other. The total amount of money taken in the robberies was less than $2,000.
The police described the case as among the worst examples of crack-related violence in New York City since the highly addictive, smokable form of cocaine appeared more than two years ago.
The suspect, Leslie Torres, was arrested Friday night, the police said, after he had killed a clerk at a grocery store on East 116th Street. He was captured on the roof of a building after a 20-minute chase through streets, alleys and buildings.
''In this case, all of the victims were innocent working people,'' Robert Colangelo, the Police Department's Chief of Detectives, said at a news conference. ''The crack homicides we've experienced in the past were of other crack dealers. This case is certainly one of the worst manifestations of the plague of crack and probably the most dramatic."
The authorities said 11 witnesses had identified Mr. Torres in a lineup.
The police know very little about Mr. Torres, who they said committed the robberies to support his drug habit. The police said they had not confirmed an address for him or found evidence that he either worked, attended school or had committed crimes in the past.
They said his mother lives in Puerto Rico and his father lives in New York. They said he does not live with his father, whom they would not identify.
From interviews, officers have determined that he lived in New York City until the age of 7, then lived in Puerto Rico until he returned to the city late last summer. At some point, the police said, he became a heavy user of crack.
Since crack arrived in New York City, poor neighborhoods such as East Harlem have been especially hard hit by the violence that was the major contributor to a 14 percent rise in the number of murders committed in the city between 1985 and 1986. Officers Pursued Him
The police gave the following account of Mr. Torres's capture:
At about 8 P.M. Friday, they said, Mr. Torres entered Mike's Grocery Store at 332 East 116th Street, threatened the store clerk with a .22-caliber revolver and robbed him of a small amount of cash and a large portable radio. He then shot the clerk, identified as Jesus Rivera, once in the head before fleeing.