By Kevin Deutsch
Michael Quiles, the man accused in the April 2017 shooting that left 5-year-old Jaheem Hunter permanently injured, has been acquitted of attempted murder.
A Bronx jury also found Quiles not guilty of assault with a weapon, but convicted him on a single count of possessing a weapon.
Quiles had faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the top charge.
Hunter’s sister-turned-legal guardian, Aja Holmes, told Bronx Justice News Wednesday her family is in a “state of complete shock, anger and confusion” over the verdict.
“There has been no justice for Jaheem in this case,” Holmes said. “Jaheem has been inflicted with physical and emotional wounds that will never heal.”
“We as a family had to make sacrifices day and night to ensure Jaheem had the best care and treatment there is to offer. We had to relive the whole experience throughout this trial only to be let down once again. This is a blow. What this verdict says to me is that Jaheem’s life doesn’t matter. An innocent child shot on his fifth birthday’s life doesn’t matter.”
The jury acquitted Quiles on the attempted murder charge despite video evidence appearing to show him fleeing the scene where little Jaheem was struck with a stray bullet on June 5, 2017. Quiles, 29, allegedly fired at least four shots at a man during a feud over a drug deal – one of which penetrated Jaheem’s head, prosecutors argued.
Holmes testified against Quiles at the trial. She told jurors she looked up after a wounded Jaheem fell and clearly saw Quiles firing shots in the 1100 block of Washington Avenue in Morissania.
On cross-examination, one of Quiles’ attorneys, Tania Brief of The Bronx Defenders, tried to cast doubt on Holmes’ recollection. She reminded Holmes that on the day of the shooting, she’d told detectives she saw Quiles run past her—not that she’d seen him fire a gun.
Holmes told Brief she could not clearly recall what she told detectives that day.
Jaheem, now 6, came within inches of death when the stray slug entered his head, officials said. He’d been standing outside his father Charles Hunter’s Bronx building, waiting for Aja to ferry him home to his birthday party, when the bullet struck him.
Hunter, holding pieces of his son’s skull and brain matter in his hands, cradled the boy’s head while Holmes raced toward St. Barnabas Hospital, honking her horn all the way.
Jaheem stopped breathing in the car, and doctors surveying his injuries gave him little chance of survival.
Yet a few hours later, as Jaheem lay in a medically inducted coma, breathing with a ventilator, he began to move, his family said. As his recovery progressed New York City lovingly embraced the boy, whose story garnered widespread media attention. He was honored by the New York Knicks, and lauded by police and government officials as a hero.
Among the evidence jurors didn’t get to hear was the dramatic 911 call in which a frantic Holmes screamed while driving Jaheem to the hospital with a bullet lodged in his head.
While the recording of the 911 call was chilling, much of it was inaudible. Brief argued it should not be played for the jury, since witness testimony provided the same information.
“I’ve heard a lot of 911 calls and this is about as hysterical as I’ve heard,” Bronx Supreme Court Justice Martin Marcus said before precluding the recording.
Jaheem continues to recover from his injuries. After enduring four major surgeries, and paralysis to his right side, he now walks with a drag in his right foot. He also has weakness in his right hand, suffers from painful seizures, and struggles with his speech and memory.
He will always need special education, Holmes said.
“It’s like he’s stuck inside of himself and he can’t get out,” she said of Jaheem’s seizures, which render him speechless.
Quiles is scheduled to be sentenced for the weapon possession conviction April 15.
Holmes said she was hurt by the fact that during the trial, Quiles’ family “sat on his side of the courtroom with their own healthy and able children around the same age as Jaheem, and not one of them came to us and said I’m sorry.”
“I can’t even do a victim’s impact statement because he’s not going to jail for shooting Jaheem…only for a gun charge,” she added. “This verdict has me in a depressed state of mind, but I am faithful that God has the last say, and that although justice hasn’t been served the way I see fit doesn’t mean it won’t be served in the way God demands it to be.”
Neither Quiles nor his attorneys could immediately be reached for comment.