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Hearing postponed for woman accused in Central Islip MS-13 killings

Central Islip Community Park, where four young men

Central Islip Community Park, where four young men were lured to their deaths in 2017, federal prosecutors have said. Credit: Goggle Map

The case of a woman accused of helping lure four men to their deaths in a Central Islip park in 2017 as a teenage member of MS-13, was continued Tuesday after federal prosecutors and a defense attorney said they had not worked out a plea deal.

In a telephone hearing, U.S. Appellate Court Judge Joseph Bianco ordered the continuance in the case of Leniz Escobar, who was 17 and known as "Diablita" in 2017 when, as he had described previously, the four victims were "murdered with machetes, knives and tree limbs."

Normally, Escobar, of Central Islip, who prosecutors said was given her nickname — Spanish for "Little Devil" — by the gang, would have been tried as juvenile for her role in the killings because of her age at the time.

But Bianco, based in Central Islip federal court, ruled in 2018 that Escobar should be tried as an adult because of her prominent role in the killings, including instigating them, and her actions afterward. Had Escobar been tried as a juvenile, she could only be imprisoned in a juvenile facility until age 21.

Bianco’s ruling for adult status, on a motion by Eastern District federal prosecutors, was subsequently upheld by the Second Circuit federal appeals court in Manhattan.

A juvenile who is converted to adult status in the federal system can face up to life in prison, if convicted, but not the death penalty.

In his ruling, Bianco noted that Escobar and another teenage girl, had lured the victims to Central Islip Community Park, supposedly to smoke marijuana.

Before that, she and the other girl had shown MS-13 members pictures of some of the victims flashing the gang’s signs on social media, Bianco said. That was considered a serious sign of disrespect from non-gang members.

After the killings, Bianco also said, Escobar showed a lack of remorse and obstructed justice by destroying evidence.

Bianco concluded that Escobar "is unlikely to be rehabilitated within [the five years permitted] in the juvenile justice system."

Escobar's defense attorney, Jesse Siegel, of Manhattan, has argued that Bianco, in converting her to adult status, failed to adequately consider his client’s lack of a criminal record, her chance for rehabilitation, and gave too much weight to the charges, which have not been proved.

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