The gang slayings of a 19-year-old mother and her 2-year-old son were so brutal and callous that after the killings one of the shooters took a toy ball the toddler had been playing with and gave it to the daughter of a friend of his, according to federal court papers.
The MS-13 gang member who allegedly took the ball, Adalberto Guzman, 19, is set to go on trial Monday in federal district court in Central Islip for the 2010 murders of Vanessa Argueta, of Hempstead, and her young son, Diego Torres.
Guzman, of Central Islip, and two other MS-13 members had originally intended to kill only Argueta in a Central Islip field because she had become involved with a member of the rival 18th Street Gang and had unsuccessfully attempted to have that gang beat up her former MS-13 boyfriend, according to court papers filed by Eastern District federal prosecutors.
Argueta thought that Guzman, the former boyfriend and another MS-13 member were taking her out to a restaurant, but when she could not find a sitter to care for young Diego, she took him along, prosecutors John Durham and Raymond Tierney said in the papers.
The court papers say that after watching his mother get shot to death -- once in the head and once in the chest -- the boy clung to the leg of one of the shooters, crying. Guzman and the others then decided to kill the 2-year-old because he might grow up and seek revenge, the papers say. The toddler died from two bullets to the head. One gun -- passed around by the three MS-13 members -- was used to fire all four shots, according to the papers.
The toy ball Guzman gave to the young daughter of a girlfriend had a picture of another "Diego," the character from the cartoon "Go Diego Go" and "Dora the Explorer," court papers say.
Guzman's defense attorneys, who say that their client is innocent, 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 so prejudicial, according to court papers.
But federal judge Joseph Bianco ruled that all those details could be heard by the jury.
Prosecutors Durham and Tierney had contended in the court papers that Diego's age was "inextricably intertwined" with their case. They said that cooperative witnesses will testify that Guzman admitted to the killings, according to the court papers.
Guzman, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, faces life if convicted.
One of the two other people accused in the case, Rene Mejia, of Patchogue, has pleaded guilty in the deaths and is awaiting sentencing. He faces life in prison.
The MS-13 ex-boyfriend was not identified in the court papers, but several witnesses at the recent trial of a leader of a Brentwood chapter of MS-13 identified him as Juan Garcia, of Baldwin.
Garcia has fled the country and is possibly hiding out in El Salvador; he is being sought by members of the FBI's Long Island Gang Task Force, sources said.
The gang leader, Heriberto Martinez, 25, of Far Rockaway, was convicted recently of approving of the killing of Argueta and being an accessory after the fact in the murder of Diego, and for helping the shooters flee the country after the killings.
The jury trial before Bianco is expected to take several weeks. Among the witnesses are expected to be several former MS-13 members who have turned informant, an FBI agent who allegedly took a confession from Guzman, and the mother of the girl who received the "Diego" toy ball.
One of Guzman's defense attorneys, Richard Langone, of Garden City, declined to comment recently, as did Durham and Tierney.
According to Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for Eastern District prosecutors, Guzman is one of 850 gang members or associates on Long Island to be arrested by FBI agents working with local police since 2002, including more than 200 MS-13 members.