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Teen Murder Witness Killed in RI

May 23, 2000

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ A 15-year-old girl who was a key witness in a murder case was fatally shot in the head the day before the trial was to begin.

Jennifer Rivera, who was shot Sunday night near her home, died Monday night. The trial was postponed earlier Monday.

Lawyers for murder defendant Charles Pona, 19, denied he was involved. He had been free on bail.

``There’s no indication that my client had anything to do with this at all,″ defense attorney Joseph Voccola said.

Maj. Guido Laorenza said investigators were pursuing a suspect but he would not discuss specifics. It was too soon to know whether the girl’s shooting was linked to the trial, he said. She had not asked for police protection.

``Is that something we’re going to pursue as a possible motive? Yes. Can we verify that? No,″ Laorenza said.

A witness who lives near the girl said he heard three shots, then he and others ran to the corner and saw the girl lying on the ground bleeding.

Pona was scheduled to be tried Monday in the August shooting death of Hector Feliciano, 17, in what investigators believe was a drug-related attack.

Jennifer, until recently a student at Roger Wiliams Middle School, testified at Pona’s bail hearing last year that she saw a person fitting his description fleeing the scene of the slaying, said Jim Martin, the attorney general’s spokesman. He would not comment further about her testimony or her connection with Pona.

Eva Quinonez, a teen-ager who said she was Jennifer’s friend and schoolmate, said the girl recently confided that she had been threatened.

``She just told me that somebody was looking for her to kill her,″ Quinonez said.

Pona had been held in state prison since November, serving a six-month sentence for obstructing a police officer. He was released April 22, and posted $100,000 bail in connection with the murder charge, Department of Corrections spokesman Al Bucci said.

Pona appeared Monday in Superior Court where a prosecutor asked that his bail be revoked. Police had gone to his home before dawn Monday and found that he had moved without notifying them.

The judge refused, instead imposing an 11 p.m. curfew on Pona and requiring him to report to a court clerk every day. The prosecutor did not say whether Pona was a suspect in the shooting, but mentioned the incident while trying to convince the judge Pona was a threat to the public.

In Pona’s Nov. 15 bail hearing, Jennifer testified she was cooking in her first floor apartment when she heard gunshots from outside. She rushed to the window and saw a dark-skinned man hop a fence in a vacant lot, run to a sport utility vehicle, and drive away.

The teen identified that man from police photos as Pona.

``It looked like him, like the one I saw the day of the murder,″ she testified.

Pona’s attorney asked the girl why she looked out her window when the bangs could have just been a car backfiring.

``Come on that’s not the first time I’ve heard a gun,″ she said.

Defense attorney Thomas Connors said he had hoped to get the chance to question the girl’s testimony.

``I’d rather have her on the stand because every time she’s testified, she’s told a different story,″ Connors said.

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