Jury to get LI gang leaders' case

Leaders of the MS-13 gang Heriberto Martinez, left, Leaders of the MS-13 gang Heriberto Martinez, left, and Carlos Ortega, right, are scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Central Islip. Photo Credit: Handout

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After five weeks of testimony, both the prosecution and defense rested yesterday in the federal trial of two leaders of the MS-13 street gang on Long Island who are charged in connection with a 2010 crime spree that authorities say resulted in five killings, including that of a 2-year-old and his mother.

The two leaders -- Heriberto Martinez, 25, of Far Rockaway, and Carlos Ortega, 23, of Brentwood -- are the latest gang members to face trial among the 850 who have been arrested in the past decade by the FBI's Long Island gang task force working with local authorities.

Almost all of the trial time was taken up by Eastern District prosecutors presenting testimony of investigators and informants, some now in the witness-protection program, and reported confessions by Martinez and Ortega. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham yesterday then said the government had completed its case in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.

One of Martinez's attorneys, Elizabeth Macedonio of Bayside, said her client did not plan to testify and the defense would not present any defense witnesses or evidence in behalf of her client.

Marianne Rantala, of Commack, one of Ortega's defense attorneys, only read a statement into the record saying if one of Ortega's uncle's was called as a witness, he would say his nephew grew up in El Salvador, had less than two years of schooling, and was so ill during much of his childhood he could not attend school.

The statement, which was agreed to by prosecutors, was apparently aimed at showing that Ortega was incapable of understanding what he allegedly confessed to and was not sophisticated enough to take part in some of the alleged crimes.

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With the jury out of the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco said he would instruct the anonymous jurors that the burden of proof lay with the government and that the defendants not taking the witness stand or presenting more than a minimal defense could not be used against them in determining guilt.

Martinez is accused of approving the killing of Vanessa Argueta, 19, and being an accessory after the fact in the killing of her son, 2. He also is charged with the killing of Nestor Moreno, 22, a security guard at a Hempstead bar.

Ortega is charged with shooting to death David Sandler, 20, who was mistaken in Brentwood for a member of the rival Latin Kings street gang.

Both Martinez and Ortega are charged with the killing of a fellow MS-13 member Mario Quijada, 25, of Far Rockaway, on a Far Rockaway beach, because he refused to kill members of rival gangs. If convicted, both face up to life in prison.

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