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Cops: Teen charged in killing of witness/victim in MS-13 case

Nassau police investigate on Feb. 3 the scene

Nassau police investigate on Feb. 3 the scene where the body of a man who authorities say was a witness in an MS-13 case was discovered in New Cassel. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A New Cassel teen was arrested and charged with the beating death this month of a homeless man expected to testify against his MS-13 attackers from a 2018 assault, Nassau police said.

The 17-year-old, who police did not identify, was arrested Saturday and charged with second-degree murder, authorities said.

The victim, Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez, 36, formerly of New Cassel, was found bludgeoned to death Feb. 2 in the hamlet after his identity as a victim willing to testify against the defendants for the prior assault was revealed to the defense as part of the pretrial discovery process, authorities said. 

In the October 2018 assault, Rodriguez had been severely beaten and stabbed by MS-13 gang members when he tried to intervene after they threatened two boys, authorities said.

The teen accused of killing Rodriguez was remanded at his arraignment Sunday in the youth part of First District Court in Hempstead and is due back in court Tuesday.

The suspect has been charged as an adolescent offender, a new classification under New York State's Raise the Age legislation passed last year.

Under that law, 17-year-olds accused of a violent felony such as murder remain in the youth part of criminal court unless the district attorney consents to the case going to Family Court. A spokesman for the Nassau district attorney said Sunday evening the office would oppose any such transfer to Family Court.

Adolescent offenders that stay in the youth part are treated as adults, but the judge considers their age at sentencing, according to the New York State Unified Court System website.

Rodriguez's identity was originally under a protective order. Court records show in late December a judge instructed prosecutors to share his name with defense attorneys, but the defense was not to disclose it to their clients until the trial's scheduled start Jan. 6, according to the attorneys and court officials.

The trial did not start on that day. But in interviews, lawyers for the defendants, Denis Pineda, 20, and Elian Ramos Velasquez, 19, said they did not disclose the name to their clients.

The death of Rodriguez, whose body was found outside an abandoned New Cassel home, prompted outrage this month from Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and County Executive Laura Curran, who initially linked his killing to recently enacted criminal justice reforms that speed up discovery. Ryder said acts of intimidation against Rodriguez began after the prosecution disclosed his name to the defense.

But later in the day, Ryder and Curran, who was out of the country at the time, said there was no direct link to the change in the law.

“The tragic death of Mr. Maldonado [Rodriguez] is, unequivocally, not the result of the new discovery laws," the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County and several other groups that support criminal justice reform said in a statement released Feb. 5.

With Michael O'Keeffe

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