*This story has been updated to include remarks from Jose Pena, his family and Jonathan Martel's family.
A defendant pleaded guilty to the murder of a local transgender woman and a separate unrelated murder in a jury trial Tuesday.
Jose Pena, 20, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, conspiracy and possession of an instrument of crime in the murder of Maya Young.
His co-defendant, Tiffany Floyd, 26, pleaded guilty to the crime in February and would have identified Pena as her co-conspirator Tuesday afternoon. Those plans changed, however, when Pena’s attorney, James Berardinelli, spoke with Pena as the court broke for lunch.
Berardinelli told PGN that Pena decided to enter a guilty plea after seeing the evidence presented against him earlier that morning.
“It was pretty clear that this case wasn’t going very well on our end so he decided to re-weigh his options,” Berardinelli said.
Det. Thorsten Lucke served as an expert witness in digital recovery and analysis for the prosecution. Lucke presented surveillance footage from Feb. 20, 2016, the night of Young’s murder. Footage showed Young running across one side of Arrott Street.
Assistant District Attorney Gwenn Cujdik told PGN that Floyd stabbed Young prior to what was presented in the video footage and that Young was “running for her life.”
In the footage, Floyd was holding a butcher knife behind her back while Pena walked alongside her. The co-defendants crossed the street pursuing Young.
Later footage showed Pena with Young on Penn Street. He previously confessed to investigators that he tried to console Young, telling her to get the wounds Floyd inflicted checked out. Afterward, Pena can be seen stabbing Young, who ran away after the encounter. It is unclear when or how he retrieved the knife from Floyd, who was not present during this interaction.
Young died from stab wounds to the chest and back near 4900 Griscom St. in Frankford. Police arrested Floyd and Pena later that month.
Previously, Floyd told investigators the stabbing stemmed from an argument over a man. She contended that Young was going to use “voodoo” to “cast a spell” on her boyfriend. Additionally, Pena previously said that Floyd told him to “finish” Young or she would have him killed.
Pena will serve 40-80 years in prison and Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd recommended anger-management, job-training and therapy to help him re-enter society.
“This is someone who is capable of redemption and being a productive citizen,” Berardinelli told the judge.
Pena also pleaded guilty to the murder of then-20-year-old Jonathan Martel. In the April 25, 2015 incident, Pena was allegedly at a house on the 4700 block of Darrah St. with 24-year-old Angel Torres. The two allegedly sold drugs out of this house. Cujdik said Martel entered the house and engaged in a dispute with Torres. Torres allegedly gave Pena a gun to shoot Martel, to which he obliged. Cujdik said Pena then pursued Martel on a street outside the house and shot Martel twice.
Officer Christine O’Brien from the Philadelphia Police Department confirmed to PGN in January that Martel died from gunshot wounds to his neck and back almost a month later, on May 23, 2015. Pena was not taken into custody for this crime until after investigations began for Young’s murder.
Floyd was also a witness in this crime and would have testified against Pena if he did not already plead guilty.
“At the time that he encountered Maya, he already killed Jonathan Martel,” Cujdik told PGN. “You have this man who is young, smart and can come off as this charming, respectable young man and then, as you saw in the video, just turn [on the victim].”
The families of both victims spoke on Tuesday for Young and on Wednesday for Martel.
Antoinette Bowens, Young’s sister, noted how Tuesday would have been Young’s 27th birthday. She said every year, they would get together to play pool, drink and host slumber parties.
“I can’t call her and talk to her about my day,” Bowens said. “She was the person who was going to walk me down the aisle.”
“I can’t forgive you,” Bowens told Pena through tears. “You took my sister away from me.”
Young’s friend Tionna Frisby also testified to Young’s character. Frisby said she lost a “truly dear friend and sister.”
“Every time I hear music that she used to listen to, I break down and cry.”
“[Pena] really took a beautiful angel away from us,” she added.
Jeanette Gonzalez, Martel’s mother, noted traditions she had on Martel’s birthday.
“He was 20 years old when this happened. Every birthday, I would buy him a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. I can’t do that anymore,” Gonzalez said through tears, adding that she recently brought a cake to Martel’s grave.
Pena’s sister, Smailya Pena, also spoke Wednesday.
“Me and my family want to express our condolences to both families,” she said, adding that she will never be able to bring the victims back.
Pena also spoke before the judge delivered his final sentence for Martel’s murder. He noted that he was “not in the right state of mind” and asked for forgiveness.
“I hope that God will be able to forgive me one day,” he said. “I understand that I hurt not only the victims and their families but also my own family.”
Floyd previously pleaded guilty on counts of third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit third-degree murder and the possession of a weapon with criminal intent. She will receive her final sentence 9 a.m. Nov. 8 in Room 1105 of the Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert St.