Mixed verdict in trial for attempted murder of Orlando “Coco” Sanchez who was later murdered

Family members of a now-deceased Trenton man left the courtroom disgusted and with one lingering question after a jury returned a mixed-bag verdict late Thursday in the attempted murder trial of reputed Latin Kings gang member Juan Colon.

Barbara Cruz, aunt of 28-year-old Orlando “Coco” Sanchez, wanted to know why, if Colon had nothing to do with her nephew’s death, did he fly to Florida days after Sanchez was gunned down on a city street in September 2012. Colon was on trial for Sanchez’s attempted murder, which prosecutors say happened two weeks before Sanchez was gunned down on a city street.

Colon was considered a person of interest, but was never charged for the murder, which remains unsolved.

The only explanation from Colon, 46, who didn’t testify, came from his attorney, who said his client visited family members.

It was an unsatisfactory one for the family, who endured another blow when a jury acquitted Colon of the Aug. 25, 2012 attempted murder of Sanchez, but convicted him on one of two counts of aggravated assault and a litany of weapons offense. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 27 with Judge Pedro Jimenez.

Colon, whose myriad convictions for robbery, assault and robbery make him a persistent offender, still faces up to 30 years in state prison on the aggravated and weapons offenses charges. His attorney still considered the verdict a win with his client facing up to 50 years if he was convicted of attempted murder.

“We’re gratified with the verdict,” said Keith Massey, Colon’s attorney.

“It’s hard to put yourself in the jury’s shoes,” said James Scott, the assistant prosecutor who tried the case. “Mr. Colon is still facing a very serious sentence. As a result, justice is served.”

The jury was handed the case late Wednesday and deliberated for a full day before arriving at a verdict late Thursday.

Colon sat stoically next to his attorney when the jury forewoman pronounced him not guilty of the attempted slaying, but guilty of shooting at Sanchez during a senseless Aug. 25, 2012 dispute at Sanchez’s Elm Street home. Colon became enraged because his sleeping girlfriend refused to come downstairs.

The shooting was not reported to police and came out during the investigation into Sanchez’s murder. Prosecutors said Colon fled New Jersey after he was named a person of interest in the murder, but Colon maintained he was in Florida visiting his ex-wife and child.

He was arrested there and detectives testified that Colon admitted to shooting at Sanchez, but not hitting him, during an untaped portion of an interrogation.

Colon’s remarks were noted in police reports but never captured by any recording device because detectives switched off a tape recorder once Colon invoked his Miranda rights.

During trial, the state painted Colon as an irrational man with gang ties who could fly off the cuff for the smallest of slights, real or perceived. The shooting of Sanchez was but one example of Colon’s volatile personality.

The Trentonian learned Colon’s attempted murder trial, scheduled to start in fall 2013, was delayed by more than a year because he allegedly threatened to kill his former attorney during a meeting in a conference room of the county courthouse.

Prosecutors decided not to file charges against Colon, citing the complexity of the case. Colon denied making the threat, meaning the attorney, whose name is being withheld because no charges were filed, would have been put in the awkward position of testifying about privileged attorney-client conversation.

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