A State Supreme Court jury returned a guilty verdict Friday afternoon in the murder trial of an Ohio man accused of killing a New York City drug dealer in a dispute in Buffalo in 2014.
Abimael Ayala-Gonzalez, 35, of Lorain, Ohio was convicted of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon for the Aug. 7, 2014 shooting death of Manuel Mateo, 51, from the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Mateo was shot in a backyard on Herkimer Street, two blocks west of Grant Street on the West Side, less than two days after he arrived in Buffalo.
Although Ohio was his legal residence, testimony showed that Ayala-Gonzalez was a frequent visitor to Buffalo. At the time of the slaying, he was staying in the house where an uncle and cousin lived – the house where Mateo was killed.
Among those testifying this week was Natalie Perez, 20, from New York City, who said Mateo hired her to drive him to Buffalo. She testified that, although she knew Mateo was involved in drugs, she did not know the purpose of his visit to Western New York, but that he had promised her they could see Niagara Falls.
Perez, who didn’t know anyone in Buffalo before that visit, said that they had dropped Ayala-Gonzalez off at his house early one morning after meeting him with other people in a bar, and that she and Mateo stopped back there the next morning. After they left and got something to eat, she said, she took Mateo back to the Herkimer house and saw him walk to the backyard. Shortly afterward she heard shots and, frightened, she drove away.
Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable also put on the stand a man who was living in the same house with Ayala-Gonzalez’s cousin when Mateo was killed. He later left the state because of his own legal issues but was brought back to testify. For the most part, his version lined up with Perez’s: He said he saw the defendant, whom he calls Abi, arguing with Mateo next to Mateo’s van early in the morning.
“They were arguing about drugs, the drug was no good,” he testified. “The guy that was in the van said he would be back.”
A little while later, he testified, when he was in the house, he heard a sound like firecrackers and saw the man he recognized from the van lying on the ground.
Although several people apparently said they heard the shots, including children who were outside that summer day, no one testified to seeing Mateo being killed.
Defense attorney Andrew LoTempio pointed out the conflicting identifications by individuals who were at the scene and who were noticed leaving the area. Outside the courtroom after the verdict, he reiterated his argument.
“They misidentified half the people they were talking about. There were four, five different descriptions,” he said.
Saying that he believed the jury disregarded the meaning of reasonable doubt, LoTempio added, “We will move to have the verdict set aside because it’s against the weight of the evidence.”
Justice Christopher J. Burns set sentencing for June 14. Ayala-Gonzalez has been held without bail since his arrest in Ohio in February 2015.