A Brentwood man has been charged with one of the two May killings in Central Islip that law enforcement officials have said were related to an MS-13 gang initiation rite.
Jeffry Rosales, 29, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to an indictment charging him with second-degree murder in the death of Keenan Russell, 21, on May 28 on Acorn Street. Suffolk prosecutors say Russell was killed with a shotgun blast to the abdomen when three people, including Rosales, fired into a crowd of people leaving a party.
Russell and Derrick Mayes, 21, were shot to death within two days of each other. Police have said the killings bear the signs of an initiation rite by the MS-13 street gang.
Those killings and an unrelated third homicide, which left Matthew Gilmore, 25, dead that same week, rattled Central Islip and spurred Suffolk police to reverse last year's decision to pull out of a federal anti-gang task force.
Suffolk police also teamed up with state police and federal marshals to investigate the shootings.
The details of Rosales' involvement in the Russell shooting remained vague Wednesday. District Attorney Thomas Spota refused to say if Rosales was affiliated with a gang, if investigators know the other two shooters, if Rosales was involved with the Mayes killing or why officials believe Rosales was involved in Russell's death.
In court, Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said Rosales did not fire the shotgun that killed Russell. All three men were acting together when they intentionally shot Russell, according to the indictment.
"This is a very, very active investigation," Spota said. "I think in the end we will be successful apprehending the other two shooters."
Spota said Rosales was arrested June 6, but police and Russell's family were asked to keep that quiet until Wednesday.
Rosales' attorney, Robert Macedonio of Central Islip, said his client, a native of El Salvador who has been in this country for 10 years working as a landscaper, denies any involvement with any gang or with any shootings, and denies knowing anyone who took part in the killings.
"There is no gang activity whatsoever on his behalf," Macedonio said.
He noted that his client is older than the typical gang member and has no tattoos or other signs of gang affiliation.
Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson ordered Rosales held without bail.
Before he was returned to the jail, he looked briefly at family members in the courtroom. His eyes filled with tears as his mother began to cry.