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Jury selection began Thursday in the murder-for-hire case of Antonio "Wilson" Peña, a week after the man he is accused of plotting to kill was locked up on federal drug-dealing charges.
Peña, 36, of New London, is accused of orchestrating a plot to murder Oscar "Tato" Valentin, with whom the state contends he once dealt drugs. In taking his case to trial, Peña, who is charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, rejected an offer to plead guilty in exchange for a 14-year prison sentence. He has been held in lieu of $2.25 million bond since he was arrested in August 2011.
The trial is expected to begin May 6 before Judge Arthur C. Hadden. On Thursday, defense attorney William T. Gerace and prosecutor Christa L. Baker selected four people to serve on the jury. The attorneys will resume jury selection today and are seeking two more jurors plus two or three alternates.
According to New London police, Peña was upset that Valentin had taken his drug-dealing business. Police said he planned to pay $5,000 to Gerardo Carrillo, 26, of 64 Fawn Hill Drive, Westbrook, and $10,000 to Elmer A. Melendez, 28, of 208 Crystal Ave. Tipped off by an informant, police pulled over the informant, Carrillo and Melendez after the informant and Carrillo had picked up Melendez at his apartment.
Valentin, the intended target, was one of about 100 people arrested last week in a massive drug raid in southeastern Connecticut. Federal officials said Valentin received wholesale quantities of cocaine from Puerto Rico and distributed the drugs from an 11-bay garage he managed at the intersection of Bristol and Walker streets in New London. He remains in federal custody.
While Peña was incarcerated, his wife's brother, 36-year-old Javier Reyes, was stabbed multiple times at the family's Huntington Street apartment on Sept. 12. The police and state's attorney's office have not confirmed whether Reyes' stabbing death and the alleged murder-for-hire are connected. In November 2012, Peña offered, through his attorney, to meet with a state's attorney to review video surveillance taken at the apartment complex on the night Reyes was killed. The police investigation is continuing.