Joe Santana, 16 years old at the time, confessed on Monday to the murder of Shatavia Walls in a Brooklyn federal court, admitting that the killing was part of a gang initiation ritual. The incident occurred on July 7, 2020, in the vicinity of Pink Houses, an NYCHA public housing complex in East New York notorious for gang activity and tensions, according to the Daily News.
At the time of her death, Walls, aged 33, was serving as a federal witness. She had previously testified in the fall of 2017, having been shot twice by a “Loopy Gang” member identified as Shakeem Boykins. Walls’ cooperation with the authorities earned her the animosity of gang members, who branded her a “snitch” and even circulated fliers labeling her a “rat.”
Santana has been behind bars since 2021 and is being tried as an adult. In court, he conceded to killing Walls in order to be accepted into the “Ninedee Gang,” a faction of the “Loopy Gang.” Under federal sentencing guidelines, Santana faces a potential prison term ranging from 24 to 30 years. Another suspect in the shooting, Quintin Green is set to stand trial in May.
Raised in Building 10 of the Pink Houses, Walls had ties to the “Ninedee Gang.” She was married to Kevin St. Hill, a reputed member of the rival “Mac Baller Brims” gang. Santana, known as “Baby Joe,” resided in Queens but frequented the Pink Houses due to family connections there, according to law enforcement sources.
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Following her and her husband’s indictment on drug trafficking charges in 2018, Walls began collaborating with federal authorities. Just days before her death, she had a confrontation with “Ninedee Gang” members Maliek Miller and Chayanne Fernandez over the noise from the Fourth of July 2020 fireworks. Miller, who called Walls a “snitch,” fired a shot into the air and left the scene, federal prosecutors said.
The dispute escalated on July 7, when another argument broke out over illegal fireworks, a recurring issue in the city during the pandemic. Walls was shot during the altercation and succumbed to her injuries ten days later in the hospital.
In the days leading up to her death, then-Brooklyn Borough President and current NYC Mayor Eric Adams had encouraged New Yorkers to settle such disagreements among themselves rather than dialing 311 or 911. Walls’ mother, Helen Testagros, lamented that her daughter had heeded that advice, only to lose her life.