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BREAKING: 17-year-old found guilty of murder at Bradlee Shopping Center

The Franklin P. Backus Courthouse at 520 King Street in Alexandria (staff photo by James Cullum)

A 17-year-old former Alexandria City High School student was found guilty Tuesday for last year’s fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in the parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center.

Judge James C. Clark found the teen guilty of second-degree murder and murder by mob and said that the case is a tragedy for all involved. The defendant sat silently as Clark rendered his decision at the conclusion of the two-day bench trial. He faces between five-to-40 years in prison for the second-degree murder charge and five-to-40 years for the murder by mob, or lynching, charge.

“(The defendant) injected himself into that fight,” Clark said while rendering his verdict, and said that the suspect “made the unspeakably poor decision to approach Mr. Mejia Hernandez and interject himself in a fight he was involved with and stabbed him in the chest.”

Clark continued, “There was clearly a mob in the Bradlee parking lot. (The defendant) injected himself in that fight, not in the heat of passion or out of fear of Luis Mejia Hernandez.”

The stabbing occurred during a brawl between two rival gangs of Alexandria City High School teenagers on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 — a week before graduation. The fight was over within one minute, and Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed in the heart. An autopsy showed that he also had abrasions to his neck, chin, the back of his hands, abdomen and knees, according to the medical examiner who testified that the cause of death was a 7/8-inch stab wound to the chest.

“I’m very happy,” said Osmin Mejia Romero, the victim’s father, after Clark announced the verdict.

Defense attorney Sebastian Norton argued that his client acted in self-defense, was frightened and not a member of the mob — all claims that Clark refuted when announcing his verdict. Norton showed still images from videos of the incident revealing Mejia Hernandez winding up his right hand to strike the defendant, and said that the stabbing was “tragically an unlucky shot.”

The defendant told police during his interrogation that two rival gangs, which he dubbed “Chiri” and “West,” agreed to fight that day at the Bradlee Shopping Center.

“(The defendant) reasonably feared death or great bodily harm,” Norton said. “What happened on May 24 was a tragedy.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord said that the defendant callously found the fight he was looking for.

“Fifty random students of a city high school didn’t meet near the McDonald’s in order to eat cheeseburgers and ice cream,” Lord said. “(The defendant) was looking for a fight that day and he found one.”

The defendant is being held in the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center and will be sentenced on September 28. Clark has the option to sentence him entirely as a juvenile or adult, or combining a juvenile and adult sentence. Clark said that between now and September should give him time to determine the character of the defendant and whether he’s a “gang banger.”

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