Prosecutors say they know who killed Dustin Ortiz Maldonado.
They also have strong suspicions about who murdered his mother when she came looking for the killer a few weeks later.
Christian O. Dalmau, a resident of the Bronx, was never charged with either murder, but he was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Buffalo to 10 years in prison for owning the gun that killed Maldonado in Riverside three years ago.
"The defendant possessed the weapon that's connected to the murder," Assistant U.S. Attorney Wei Xiang said Tuesday.
Officially, the two murders remain unsolved, but prosecutors say they know Dalmau killed Maldonado. They also believe he was in Puerto Rico when the victim's mother, Carmen Maldonado Grajales, disappeared.
At one point during the prosecution, Xiang suggested that Dalmau would have to be "incredibly unlucky" for all of the circumstances surrounding his involvement in the murders to be pure coincidence.
The case against Dalmau stems from Maldonado's fatal shooting on Newfield Street in Buffalo and Grajales' decision to travel to Puerto Rico in what prosecutors believe was an effort to find her son's killer.
A few days later, she was dead, too.
“She went to Puerto Rico and drew some obviously unwanted attention to someone or some group of individuals who she accused,” Xiang said in his court papers. “Shortly thereafter, she disappeared.”
Dalmau, 31, was never charged with murder, but he was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to a gun-possession charge involving the weapon used in the killing of the 27-year old Maldonado.
Investigators say Dalmau was arrested just minutes after Maldonado was shot and, when Dalmau was found, he was still inside the GMC Yukon they believe was at the murder scene.
They also found the loaded 9-mm semiautomatic handgun used to kill Maldonado inside the car with Dalmau’s DNA on the weapon.
So why wasn't Dalmau ever charged with murder?
"The prosecution has a very thin case," defense lawyer Gregory Val Bitterman said Tuesday. "They haven't even put him at the scene."
Prosecutors believe the two men were drug associates and that Maldonado owed money to Dalmau. But they also acknowledge they don't have enough evidence to bring a federal murder charge against Dalmau, and Xiang has specifically mentioned the “reluctance of witnesses” to testify about what happened that day.
Xiang says witnesses heard three to four gunshots before noticing Maldonado’s body on Newfield, and that the 17-round magazine in Dalmau’s weapon contained only 13 rounds at the time of his arrest by Buffalo police a few minutes later.
Xiang also points to a GPS with Maldonado’s Buffalo address entered into the device. He says it was found in the Yukon, next to Dalmau’s seat.
Meanwhile, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office says Maldonado’s murder remains under investigation.
By their own admission, prosecutors are less certain about what happened to Maldonado's mother and they stopped well short of accusing Dalmau of killing her.
In court papers, they refer to the circumstances that led to her disappearance and her belief that someone in Puerto Rico was responsible for her son’s murder in Buffalo.
From Day One, Dalmau has maintained his innocence and offered a far different take on why he wasn’t charged with murder.
In court papers, Bitterman described the government's allegations as a manufactured tale chock-full of “factual inaccuracies.”
He pointed to the lack of fingerprints and the presence of many people’s DNA on the gun. He also noted the absence of any flight records or any other evidence that his client was in Puerto Rico at the time of Grajeles' murder.
"He's a changed person, and he's never going to do anything like this again," Bitterman told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
In his plea agreement, Dalmau admits possessing the handgun that killed Maldonado but stops well short of admitting any involvement in the murders.