An MS-13 gang member was sentenced Monday to 45 years in federal prison for murdering a woman and her toddler son in a Central Islip wooded area more than six years ago as retribution for disrespecting the gang, federal prosecutors said.
Rene Mendez Mejia, 22, also known as “Zorro,” who lived in Brentwood and Patchogue, fled to El Salvador after the Feb. 5, 2010, execution-style slayings, but later returned to the United States and pleaded guilty to the killings in 2011.
Mejia and two other MS-13 members — Adalberto Ariel Guzman of Central Islip and Juan Garcia of Baldwin and Inwood — shot and killed 19-year-old Vanessa Argueta and her 2-year-old son, Diego Torres, in Central Islip after luring them to a secluded wooded area, officials said.
Robert L. Capers, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement that he hopes Mejia’s sentence brings the victims’ families “some measure of justice and comfort.”
“Mejia and his fellow MS-13 members brutally and senselessly executed a young woman and her two-year-old child,” said Capers, adding: “My Office and our law enforcement partners will continue to be vigilant and aggressively prosecute the MS-13 and other criminal organizations who unleash violence on our communities.”
Mejia was the last of four MS-13 gang members to be sentenced to prison; each was alleged to have either plotted the killings or have been directly involved.
“As the last defendant is sentenced for the brutal murders of a young woman and her toddler son by MS-13 gang members, we hope the victims’ family can finally feel justice has been served,” said Diego Rodriguez, head of the FBI’s New York office, in the statement.
After luring Argueta to the woods under the guise of taking her to a restaurant, according to court papers, Mejia shot her in the head. Garcia, Argueta’s ex-boyfriend, then shot her in the chest. Guzman then fatally shot the toddler twice in the head, reasoning that the boy might seek revenge one day, according to officials.
When he pleaded guilty in 2011, Mejia told the court the plan was to kill Argueta for asking that the rival 18th Street gang threaten her estranged MS-13 boyfriend.
According to court papers, the MS-13 members tried to lure Argueta alone to her death by saying they were taking her to a restaurant. But she insisted on taking Diego along because “she didn’t have anyone to watch her son.”
Papers filed by prosecutors said the toddler was killed after he hugged the leg of one of the three and “began crying.”
Guzman and Garcia also fled to El Salvador after the killings. Guzman was arrested with Mejia when they returned to the United States, but Garcia remained a fugitive for four years until March 2014, when he surrendered to law enforcement authorities in Nicaragua after being placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List.
Guzman was convicted on charges related to the murders in September 2013 after a three-week trial, and later sentenced to life in prison plus 35 years. Garcia pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murders.
MS-13 leader Heriberto Martinez, who plotted to kill Argueta, but was not at the scene of the killing, was sentenced to life in prison plus 60 years after a six-week trial in 2013 for her murder, as well as the 2010 murders of Nestor Moreno in Hempstead and Mario Alberto Canton Quijada in Far Rockaway.