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R.I. Jury Convicts Man of Murdering Teen

November 12, 2003

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Charles Pona was convicted Wednesday of murder in the death of a 15-year-old who was gunned down outside her home before she could testify against him in another homicide case.

Pona, 22, was found guilty on all counts, including conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of justice in the May 2000 killing of Jennifer Rivera.

Prosecutors said he ordered Rivera killed after the teenager told police she saw Pona fleeing from the 1999 murder of Hector Feliciano.

Pona was convicted of Feliciano’s killing and sentenced to life in prison. The attorney general’s office said he’d have to serve a minimum of 20 years on that conviction. With Wednesday’s verdict, Pona could be sentenced to serve an additional 35 to 55 years before he would be eligible for parole. No sentencing date was announced.

Rivera’s murder sparked a review of the state witness protection program. Her family claims she asked for but was refused police protection; authorities denied the allegation. The General Assembly in 2001 changed the program to protect more witnesses and more easily keep their names and whereabouts secret.

Pona’s friend, Miguel Perez, testified for the prosecution that he, Pona and Dennard Walker, Pona’s half brother, parked about a block from Rivera’s home.

Perez said that as Walker got out of the car, Pona told him ``make sure you do it right.″

Walker testified he shot Rivera in the back of her head, but he said he acted alone ``because I love my brother″ and neither Pona or Perez knew what he was doing.

Walker pleaded guilty in 2002 to murder and conspiracy charges. Perez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

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