Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed the killings of a 19-year-old mother and her 2-year-old son were "horrific crimes" during opening statements Monday in the Central Islip murder trial of an MS-13 gang member charged in their deaths.
But the attorneys vehemently disagreed about whether defendant Adalberto Guzman was responsible for the 2010 killings in a wooded lot in Central Islip of Vanessa Argueta and her toddler son, Diego Torres.
Guzman, of Central Islip, then 17, is charged with their murders. In his opening statement, federal prosecutor John Durham told the jury Guzman was so cold blooded that he bragged about his role to other members of the MS-13 street gang. Guzman's actions were "almost as senseless as they were brutal and cowardly," Durham said, adding that he even took the toddler's toy ball as a souvenir.
One of Guzman's attorneys, Gary Villanueva, said that "the government is absolutely right that this is a horrific case."
But Villanueva said Guzman was not the killer. Instead, he said, Guzman had been framed by government cooperators, "people who lied and lied again," but are now seeking leniency for crimes, including their own killings.
Durham told the jury Argueta was murdered because she had "shown disrespect" to the gang by having rival gang members unsuccessfully attempt to harm a former MS-13 boyfriend.
The 2-year-old was killed because Guzman was afraid the boy would grow up and seek revenge, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorneys have tried to get the age of the toddler, the alleged reason for his murder and the story of the toy ball barred from being heard by the jury because, they said, it was extremely prejudicial, according to court papers.
Federal Judge Joseph Bianco has ruled that all those details could be heard by the jury.
Durham said that after the murders, Guzman bragged of killing the boy to other gang members, after his mother was gunned down by himself, the former boyfriend and another MS-13 member.
"Diego screamed and cried . . . was shot in the head . . . fell to the ground, but somehow, whether it was adrenaline or survival instincts, Diego managed to get to his feet and he clutched onto the leg of" the former boyfriend, Durham said.
At this point, another federal prosecutor, Raymond Tierney, said, Guzman told a cooperator he "grabbed the kid in his arm, put a gun to the victim's head," and fired another fatal bullet into the toddler's head.
Afterward, Guzman took a toy ball that Diego had been playing with and kept it briefly as a souvenir, but gave it to the daughter of a girlfriend, Durham said.
On a wiretap, Guzman is heard being disappointed when the girlfriend said she threw the ball away, Durham said. Guzman laughed and told her she should have sent it to him "for the good memories," Durham said.
Villanueva said whatever remarks Guzman may have made were the boasting of a 17-year-old, aware the MS-13 code required him to act violently.
Don't let "anger, fear and passion destroy your ability to reason," Villanueva told the jurors.