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Long IslandCrime

Defense to jurors: Evidence lacking in Brentwood murder trial

A Brentwood man’s attorney urged jurors Thursday to look past his client’s videotaped confession and apparent links to the MS-13 street gang to what the lawyer said was a lack of evidence tying the defendant to an execution-style slaying in 2012.

But a Suffolk prosecutor said in her closing argument that there’s no way to look past the video. Elvi Portillo Aguilar, 27, not only described on the video how he shot and killed Edgar Perez Avalos, 30, on Aug. 18, 2012, outside Migueleno’s sports bar in Brentwood, but demonstrated standing over the victim and firing a single shot into the back of his head.

“It is compelling and damaging, folks,” Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Kearon told jurors before Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow in Riverhead. The jury deliberated about an hour Thursday and will resume Friday.

Authorities say Portillo, charged with second-degree murder, walked up to and shot Perez after two other MS-13 members had beaten him into unconsciousness in the Migueleno’s parking lot. Those men pleaded guilty to assault and have been deported to El Salvador.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Craig McElwee of Hauppauge noted that those men identified someone other than his client as the shooter. During the trial outside the jury’s presence, McElwee said the trial should have been halted because prosecutors violated what is known as the Brady rule by not disclosing that co-defendants said someone else was the shooter.

That prevented the defense from investigating what the co-defendants said and building a stronger defense. The Brady rule generally requires prosecutors to turn over any information favorable to the defense as soon as they have it. Braslow ruled that waiting three years to disclose this information was not a Brady violation.

Still, McElwee focused on the co-defendants’ identification of someone else as the shooter and told jurors that police did not consider other suspects.

“Confession does not equal conviction,” he said. “We all have seen the error of that equation.”

He said his client was worn down by hours of interrogation and in the end merely went along with a “script” suggested to him by homicide detectives. That script made him a member of the violent MS-13 gang, even though McElwee said Portillo’s family had been threatened by the gang.

McElwee also asked why police didn’t search nearby garbage containers for the murder weapon, which was never found.

But Kearon said the confession was detailed and reliable.

“What better evidence can you get?” she asked jurors.

In one video clip she played for jurors, a Spanish-speaking detective asked Portillo, “When you shot him in the head, were you trying to kill him?”

Portillo paused for a moment, then laughed and responded, “Yes.”

Kearon said many of the details Portillo provided on the video could have come only from the killer. He knew the time of the attack and that Perez was shot with a 9-mm pistol.

“If he was not the shooter, how would he know?” Kearon said, adding that Portillo even described the victim accurately as being shirtless.

If convicted, Portillo faces 25 years to life in prison.

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