EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 10, 2012

La Guira trial set to begin today

By Jill Harmacinski jharmacinski@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — LAWRENCE — Just a little over two years ago, drug dealer Johan Saint Clair allegedly opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun, spraying bullets into the Broadway nightclub La Guira killing two people and wounding two others in what authorities described as a “revenge” attack.

Today, opening arguments are expected in Saint Clair’s double murder trial on top floor of Lawrence Superior Court.

The bloody crime was considered retribution against a Lawrence-based kidnapping gang that previously stole large amounts of cocaine from Saint Clair, according to court documents released late last month.

Killed on July 6, 2010 were Amarilis Roldon, 24, of Dorchester, and Juan Esteban Suazo-Soto, 24, of Hyde Park. La Guira shooting survivors Valerie Verdejo and Jose Luis Medrano Baez are listed as potential trial witnesses.

One of the survivors told police of their involvement in a robbery with Suazo-Soto of Saint Clair for “multiple kilograms of cocaine,” according to court documents.

Saint Clair is charged with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of armed assault with intent to murder, two counts of armed assault by means of a dangerous weapon and illegal possession of a large capacity weapon.

A conviction of first degree murder carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Jury selection in the case started yesterday morning. Judge Richard Welch told the potential pool the trial would last two weeks. Saint Clair and his defense attorney Russell Sobelman of Lynn along with Prosecutors James Gubitoise and Jessica Strasnick introduced themselves to jurors yesterday.

Saint Clair, 32, wore headphones in court. Seated next to him was a court interpreter, who translated the proceedings from English to Spanish for him.

Lawrence police witnesses that could be called to testify include Detective Capt. Denis Pierce, Detectives Thomas Burke and Brian Voisine, officers PJ Lopez, Joseph Padellaro and Nelson Potter, according to a witness list Welch yesterday described as “over inclusive.”

La Guira owner Richard Nunez, who has close personal connections to Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, may also be called to testify.

La Guira was shut down by police last month after it’s liquor license was revoked by the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. The ABCC, in a decision, rapped Nunez and his bouncers for doing nothing to help patrons after Saint Clair allegedly fled. Workers also locked out police and rescue workers while the dead and wounded lay on the floor inside La Guira, according to the ABCC decision.

The night of the shooting, after Saint Clair walked into La Guira and opened fire, he jumped into a getaway car and fled. Two people in the car bailed during the chase and were never captured.

Saint Clair has been held without bail at Middleton Jail since he was tackled by a state trooper and a Lowell police officer off Interstate 495 near the Lowell-Tewksbury line, ending the police chase that night.

Another man, Fernando Gurrerro-Lara, was arrested in connection with the La Guira murders and held for several months. Charges were later dropped against him but Guerrero-Lara was turned over to federal authorities and later deported to the Dominican Republic.

According to a federal affidavit released last month, the La Guira shooting was in retaliation for an earlier robbery of Saint Clair. Two of the shooting victims were associated of Danny Veloz, 37, a Lawrence man who was the ringleader of a kidnapping gang called the Veloz crew, according to the affidavit by John Orlando, a special agent with the FBI.

Veloz and his gang of at least nine men would rob and kidnap people, mostly drug dealers, beat them, torture them with hot irons and hold them for ransoms in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to court documents. On Sept. 28, Veloz and other gang members were charged with federal kidnapping and firearms charges.

After Suazo-Soto was killed at La Guira, police found a backpack in his gray BMW X5 parked outside. Inside the backpack was a ski mask, gloves, flex cuffs, an electric stun gun, GPS tracking device, a laptop computer and an electric iron, according to federal court papers.