Two cousins sentenced simultaneously in separate MS-13 gang-related slayings

Juan Gomez, of Brentwood, seen in custody on Juan Gomez, of Brentwood, seen in custody on April 12, 2012. Gomez, 19, is the last of three MS-13 gang members convicted in the death of Leodan Bonilla. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Two cousins, members of the same street gang, were sentenced simultaneously Friday in adjacent courtrooms in Riverhead for separate murders.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro sentenced Juan Gomez, 21, to 25 years to life in prison for shooting a fellow MS-13 member to death in December 2010. At the same time next door, Justice Mark Cohen sentenced his cousin, Alcides Gomez, 33, to 15 years to life for taking part in a fatal beating in June 2011.

Francis Murphy, Alcides Gomez's lawyer, said that despite the family relationship and membership in MS-13, the Brentwood men had not been close until after their arrests. Since then they've had more time together in the Suffolk County jail, Murphy said.

Juan Gomez was found guilty of second-degree murder last month, the last of three men convicted of killing fellow gang member Leodan Bonilla, 18, of Brentwood, in a wooded area of North Bay Shore because they mistakenly believed he was a police informant.

Bonilla's mother, Abila Bonilla, struggled through tears to address Ambro.

"It's difficult for me to be here," she said in Spanish through an interpreter, before thanking police, prosecutors and Ambro. "I expect you to do what's correct."

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Assistant District Attorney Peter Timmons said Gomez was the ringleader who decided that he, Wilmer Zuniga and Onan Chica had to kill Bonilla. Like Gomez, Zuniga, 19, of Central Islip, was convicted of second-degree murder last year and was sentenced to 25 years to life. Chica, 19, of Brentwood, testified against Zuniga and Gomez after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in return for a sentence of 15 to 18 years.

"What was particularly chilling was that this defendant [Gomez] was the one who was joking with the victim, laughing with the victim, as he brought him into the woods, knowing he was going to kill him," Timmons said.

Gomez told Ambro he was innocent and would appeal.

"If I have to do five, 10 years and come back on appeal, I'll do it," he said. "I'm sorry for the victim's family, but I'm not going to be forced into a corner and plead guilty to something I didn't do."

Ambro told Gomez the evidence against him was compelling.

"This was a cold-blooded execution, carried out by you and the other gang members," Ambro said. "The only sensible sentence is the maximum."

Alcides Gomez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He was one of three men who beat Rumaldo Bethancourt Lopez, 29, to death with pipes, bats, bricks and concrete following a dispute at a Brentwood pool hall. The other defendants were sentenced already.

"I'm glad that the defendant took responsibility for his actions," Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock said. "He'll be off the streets of Suffolk County for a very long time."

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