Prosecutors seek to rebut defense arguments in gang 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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A federal prosecutor got in the last word Tuesday in the case of two MS-13 gang members charged in relation to five killings.

The two, Heriberto Martinez, 25, of Far Rockaway and Carlos Ortega, 23, of Brentwood, face up to life in prison if convicted of the 2010 killings on Long Island and in Far Rockaway.

Eastern District federal prosecutor John Durham sought to refute the arguments made the day before by defense attorneys trying to punch holes in the government's case.

Because the burden of proving the defendants' guilt lies with the government, prosecutors first give a summation of their case, then the defense sums up, and the government gets a final rebuttal.

Martinez's defense attorney, Elizabeth Macedonio, and Ortega's defense attorney, Marianne Rantala, had argued their clients' confessions were not recorded and the MS-13 cooperators who testified for the government were not credible because they want lighter sentences for their own crimes committed with the defendants, including murders.

They said the government's physical evidence did not necessarily implicate their clients. That evidence included cellphone calls made by the defendants near the scene of the killings, ballistic tests, and one of the victims' blood found on Martinez's clothing.

Addressing criticisms by Macedonio that jurors would not let the MS-13 cooperators into their homes, prosecutor Durham said "probably not, but if you wanted to commit murder they would be perfect."

Durham said the government hadn't selected the MS-13 cooperators who testified but that Martinez and Ortega, in effect, had by associating with them in committing crimes.

In the case of two of the killings, that of Vanessa Argueta, 19, of Hempstead, and her 2-year-old son, Diego Torres, Durham said that the evidence showed that Martinez had approved of the killings of Argueta, then helped the three actual shooters flee to El Salvador and sent them money. Martinez is charged as an accessory after the fact in the Torres murder.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco barred testimony on Torres' age or relationship to Argueta as being too inflammatory.

In court were a number of Argueta's and Torres' families and friends. Argueta's brother, the toddler's uncle, Oscar Argueta said "We're going to wait . . . to make sure they get justice for such vicious crimes."

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