MS-13 gang member's murder trial gets under way

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Both his own defense attorney and federal prosecutors agreed Thursday that Josue Rubi-Gonzalez viciously murdered a Central Islip man, Jesus Valentin, under the mistaken impression he was a member of the Latin Kings street gang.

And the defense attorney and federal prosecutors agreed that Rubi-Gonzalez, now 24, was in the rival street gang MS-13, as they started his second trial on racketeering-murder charges in the death of Valentin in federal court in Central Islip.

But that was where the agreements ended.

Rubi-Gonzalez's attorney, Anthony La Pinta, of Hauppauge, asked the jurors "to put emotion aside" and see that as horrendous as the murder admittedly was, his client should be acquitted because the crime did not meet the criteria for conviction under the federal racketeering statute.

First, La Pinta said, MS-13 was not a racketeering enterprise aimed at committing crimes, but rather a kind of El Salvadorean immigrant self-defense and social group born out of the poverty and lack of efficient policing in El Salvador.

Next, La Pinta said that the killing of Valentin was "a murder. It was a brutal murder, but it was not in fulfillment of [racketeering] activity." It was not aimed at promoting Rubi-Gonzalez within the structure of MS-13, as would be required under the federal racketeering statute, La Pinta said.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Donoghue and John Durham, in their turn, scoffed at La Pinta's arguments, arguing that MS-13 is clearly a criminal enterprise based on its members' illegal activities and that the murder was committed as part of the MS-13 credo of killing members of rival gangs.

MS-13 is "a sprawling web of crime . . . an organization that thrives on [crime]," prosecutor Durham said.

The stakes in the case are especially important for Rubi-Gonzalez because if he is acquitted of responsibility for the death of Valentin in federal court, he could not be retried on similar charges in state court under the state's double jeopardy rules.

Rubi-Gonzalez is being tried for a second time in the Valentin death because his original conviction in the case was thrown out by a federal appeals court in February.

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The three-judge panel, including Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, ruled that the testimony of the government's expert witness on street gangs in the case unfairly used hearsay.

The body of the 22-year-old Valentin was found in 2003 stuffed in a drain pipe in a wooded area near his Central Islip home, according to prosecutors.

Valentin had been "repeatedly stabbed in the stomach with a knife . . . and his throat had been cut," prosecutor Durham said.

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