Juan Cabrera convicted of murdering TJ Wells

Juan Sandro Cabrera appears in court Wednesday to hear the jury read its verdict. The jury convicted Cabrera of first-degree premeditated murder. 

An Ottawa County jury has convicted 18-year-old Juan Sandro Cabrera of murder.

After a five-day trial in Circuit Court in Grand Haven, Cabrera was found guilty Wednesday of first-degree premeditated murder of 14-year-old Troy “T.J.” Wells. He also was convicted of gang membership or affiliation with the Holland Latin Kings gang and being in possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

The jury deliberated for exactly two hours before reaching its verdict.

Wells was shot and killed in the Hampton Inn hotel shortly after midnight Feb. 16. He was shot at least six times with a high-powered rifle and died about an hour later at Holland Hospital.

During the trial, prosecutor JoEllen Haas called 22 witnesses, including the victim’s mother and sister, and several young adults who were at the hotel on the night of Wells’ murder.

Cabrera will be sentenced at a date yet to be scheduled. For first-degree premediated murder, the mandatory sentence in Michigan is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Defense attorney Chris Kessel said Cabrera’s friends and family were disappointed in the result of the trial.

“I think heartbreak, a lot of tears, shock and disbelief,” Kessel said. “He’s a very young man and he’s facing a lot of time.”

When the jury’s verdict was read, both sets of families burst into tears in the courtroom. Wells’ aunt, Devasha Williams, said, “I just want my nephew back,” after Cabrera was escorted out of the courtroom by police.

“It feels like eternity that my nephew’s been gone,” Williams added. “For (Cabrera) to be guilty on all three counts was just the ultimate. The prosecutor went big and didn’t go home. I don’t have to feel angry at our judicial system. Sometimes, there’s never justice, but my sister got the justice she needs.”

Kessel said he believes the jury weighed video surveillance from the hotel heavily in their decision to convict Cabrera.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Kessel said. “I think the witnesses contradicted themselves, but the jury went with the video.”

In the video, the shooter is wearing long, black pants and a long-sleeve black top. The shooter is also wearing black shoes with a white reflective strip on the back. Earlier in the night, that reflective strip is clear on Cabrera’s shoes as he walked to and from the hotel room in the video surveillance.

Wells’ sister, Kari Hunter, was with Wells in the hotel when he was shot by Cabrera. She testified early in the trial, then remained in the courtroom to hear the rest of the proceedings.

“I just felt happy for my mom (when the verdict was read),” Hunter said. “It was the first time she cried tears of joy instead of tears of pain.”

Cabrera’s mother, Sarah Cintron, is serving 60 days in the Ottawa County Jail for lying to police during the investigation of her son. Cabrera’s father, Juan Pablo Cabrera, is currently in custody at the Kent County Jail awaiting court proceedings for similar charges. Juan Pablo Cabrera’s wife and Cintron’s boyfriend are also facing charges related to this case.

Williams said that while she feels a small amount of closure that Cabrera was found guilty, her nephew still is gone.

“T.J.’s always been smart, alert, a wise kid,” she said. “He’s very independent. T.J. was a very well-loved child. The young man he was, he was loved and cared for by a lot of people.”

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