Perhaps it was when he saw the faces of the jury that was just seated, or maybe it was the faces of his own family members in the courtroom. It could have been when attorneys for both sides were making stipulations about the evidence – evidence that reportedly included a security video that showed Victor M. Irizarry walking up to Nicholas Jozens outside a Clinton Street bar last September and shooting him.
Whatever the reason, as his murder trial was starting Friday morning, Irizarry told his attorney that he would like another chance to accept the district attorney’s offer in the case – an offer he previously had accepted and then rejected to interrupt an earlier trial.
This time the plea went through.
Irizarry, 44, pleaded guilty before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns to first degree manslaughter for killing Jozens, a man he barely knew, at 4:30 in the morning on Sept. 12. Irizarry, who was arrested a day after the shooting, originally was charged with second degree murder, the lesser included charge of manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon.
Jozens was outside a Kaisertown bar with friends after closing time. There reportedly had been an altercation in the bar earlier that night between Irizarry and some other patrons, and Irizarry, who later claimed he had gotten the worst of the encounter, retaliated by getting a gun and coming back.
According to defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova, a recording of the shooting shows Jozens leaning on a light pole and talking to a woman when Irizarry, wearing a face mask, approaches them with the gun. When the woman confronts him and pulls off his mask, Irizarry turns and fires one shot into Jozens’ abdomen. The young man collapses and, as Irizarry runs away, he points the gun at someone who appears to be using a phone to call for help.
Jozens was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he died.
Irizarry was known in the neighborhood through a barbershop he ran and was quickly identified. He was arrested a day later after a standoff when he was hiding in a garage.
The police also knew Irizarry, who has a long criminal career. He was imprisoned in his 20s for attempted robbery and weapons convictions. After serving that sentence, he and two others conspired in 1996 to rob a man, Hector Ortiz, at his home on 19th Street, hoping to get drugs, money or both. Police said all the men were members of the West Side gang known as the 10th Street Boys.
They botched the crime and one of Irizarry’s accomplices shot and killed Ortiz, a woman and clubbed her son. Irizarry also accidentally shot the other accomplice, but he survived.
In another case, Irizarry and two others tried to kidnap a man from a Lackawanna social club, but wound up shooting two other people instead. They survived, and Irizarry and his cohorts were captured when they crashed their car while trying to escape.
Irizarry was serving five years for that crime when he pleaded guilty in 1997 to attempted manslaughter in the Ortiz case. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for that, but was free by 2006, when he went back to prison at age 35 for convictions related to two West Side shooting incidents in which no one was injured. And in May 2015, police picked up Irizarry again for allegedly harassing neighbors and threatening to have gang members kill them and “burn down their house.”
After accepting Irizarry’s plea Friday, Burns thanked the jurors for their time and pointed out that their presence may have facilitated the plea finally going through. He also said, “It can be good to resolve it like this because many times it’s better (for victims’ families) to hear it from the person than to have 12 jurors resolve it.”
Jozens’ family members came to court to witness the trial and were there for the plea, as were members of Irizarry’s family.
Burns said he intends to sentence Irizarry to somewhere between 20 and 25 years in prison plus five years post-release supervision when he returns to court Aug. 31 at 10:30 a.m.