The New Century Mini-Mall, one of many on Main Street, blends into the downtown business scene with its focus on clothing and electronics. But this one has a special place in history as the scene of one of the most gruesome Queens crimes of the 21st century—the Wendy’s massacre.
Its merchandise is a far cry from fast-food hamburgers and fries and because the massacre four years ago was so horrific, no food will ever be sold there again.
Monday, May 24th, marked the fourth anniversary that changed the lives of seven families when two criminals decided to rob the Wendy’s at 40-12 Main Street and leave no witnesses.
John Taylor, who previously worked at that Wendy’s as an assistant manager, and his partner, Craig Godineaux, both of Jamaica, entered the restaurant near closing time, joking with the employees and ordering food. Taylor asked to see the manager in his basement office, where the safe was located.
He then pulled a gun and ordered the manager, Jean Auguste, to call his employees down. They were all bound and marched into the freezer, where large plastic garbage bags were put over their heads and shot execution style.
Two survived. Patrick Castro and Jaquione Johnson lived to testify in 2002 that Taylor had shot Auguste, then turned the gun on screaming Anita Smith before handing the weapon to Godineaux and telling him to finish the job. He shot Ramon Nazario, Ali Ibadad, Jeremy Mele and the two who survived.
They then fled the restaurant and took public transportation to get home, carrying $2,400 in coins from the robbery. Police were able to track down Taylor quickly because he had a history of holding up fast food establishments.
He was arrested on Long Island at a relative’s home and was found with the murder weapon, money from the robbery and the surveillance video from Wendy’s. Godineaux was arrested later in Jamaica, at a men’s clothing store where he worked as a security guard.
Godineaux was eventually found to be slightly retarded and could not be tried for the death penalty. He pleaded guilty and is now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. His appeals were denied.
At Taylor’s dramatic trial that began in October 2002 and ended shortly before Thanksgiving, relatives of the victims sat as devastating details of the crime were revealed to the jury. Assistant District Attorney Daniel Saunders told the jury that this was never just a robbery because there would have been seven witnesses and three of them knew Taylor.
He also described Taylor as seeking revenge. Taylor disliked Auguste, because he was his supervisor at Wendy’s and had called him to task. He wanted to make Auguste look bad.
Taylor was quickly found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty. He is now in Dannemora State Prison. Appeals of the verdict, mandated by state law, could take 10 to 20 years. He is now 40 years old. Brown said this week he doesn’t know when Taylor’s appeals case will be heard. There are other capital punishment cases ahead of his.
Since the trial, Saunders was promoted to deputy executive assistant district attorney for major crimes in Queens.
The restaurant never reopened. After it became a mini-mall, the new owner donated $18,000 to the Flushing Library in honor of the victims to be used for an after-school program.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who called the crime scene the worst he had ever witnessed, told family members he had never seen a tragedy resonate so strongly in the community. “Each day you feel the pain. I hope that over time it will lessen but I know it will never disappear,” he said.
Family members like Benjamin Nazario, who lost his brother, and Joan Truman-Smith, who lost her daughter, remained outspoken during the Taylor trial and were satisfied that justice had been served. They both are actively pushing for his execution.
The Wendy’s corporation planted a tree in memory of the victims at the Queens Botanical Garden and Quality Services for the Autism Community, where Anita Smith had worked, named a scholarship after her. Smith, 22, of South Jamaica, was saving money so she could start college in the fall at York College. The scholarship is for college students who are pursuing careers in the field of developmental disabilities.
Survivor Castro returned to his native Ecuador after he recovered but wants to come back to the United States to pursue an education. Johnson, who was shot in the head, had to undergo brain surgery and months of rehabilitation. Prior to the trial, he was living with family members in Florida.
D.A. Brown said both men are doing well.