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Flushing man charged with murder 15 years later

Diaz, 33, of 149-43 35th Ave., was arrested March 17 shortly after police in the 109th Precinct pulled him over for having the windows on his SUV too darkly tinted, law enforcement sources said. The sources indicated that Diaz's name appeared on a wanted card when it was entered into the system.

Queens County Criminal Court Justice Lenore Gerald Friday arraigned Diaz on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in connection with the killing of 17-year-old Juan Cabrera 15 years ago, according to a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Diaz faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

He and two others allegedly attacked Cabrera near the intersection of 101st Street and 37th Avenue, punching, robbing and then stabbing him "numerous times about the body, thereby causing his death," the criminal complaint said.

Bail was set at $500,000, and Diaz remained in custody, according to his attorney, Michael Schwed.

Schwed said Diaz was arrested around 8 a.m. on March 17 at his Flushing home, where he lives with his wife and 7-year-old daughter. Diaz's name does not appear on his building's front-door buzzer list.

Diaz maintained his innocence, Schwed said.

"They got the wrong Nelson Diaz," Schwed said. "He swears up and down."

At the arraignment, prosecutors told the court that Diaz had fled to the Dominican Republic after Cabrera's murder, according to law enforcement sources.

But in a telephone interview, Schwed denied that Diaz had ever left the country and pointed out that Diaz brought to court a passport that showed no departure from the country.

Diaz was living in the open, Schwed said. "You'd think he'd leave (if he committed the crime)," Schwed said.

Diaz comes from a large family and has relatives all over the country, Schwed said. "It would not have been difficult to relocate if he wanted," the attorney said.

Two other people were convicted of their involvement in Cabrera's 1989 murder.

Corona native Jeffrey Batista, 32, pleaded guilty in December 1990 to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 3 1/2 to 10 1/2 years in prison, law enforcement sources said. Roberto Taveres also pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison, the sources said, adding that Taveres received a longer sentence because it was his second felony.

Diaz is next scheduled to appear in Queens County Criminal Court on April 1.

Cabrera's family could not be located for comment.

Few people along the block where Cabrera was killed said they had been working or living there long enough to have witnessed the killing.

An employee at the neighboring mechanic shop who would not give his name said he was working on the block at the time but was out on a tow truck call when the murder occurred. But he said witnesses told him that Cabrera was running east on the south side of 37th Avenue when he was attacked.

According to the same witnesses, the man said, Cabrera was stabbed and eventually collapsed after running into the street.

Reach reporter James DeWeese at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157, or by e-mail at news@timesledger.com.

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