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Attorney for suspect in anti-gang activist's death wants to review grand jury's presentation

AnneMarie Drago, center, leaves First District Court in

AnneMarie Drago, center, leaves First District Court in Central Islip with her lawyer's assistant on Monday, Jan. 14, after a status conference. Drago is charged with running over and killing Evelyn Rodriquez. Credit: James Carbone

The lawyer for the woman charged with running over and killing anti-gang activist Evelyn Rodriguez last year, on Monday asked a judge to let him see if Suffolk prosecutors properly instructed the grand jury that indicted his client.

AnnMarie Drago, 58, of Patchogue, is charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of Rodriguez and lesser charges related to the destruction of a memorial to Rodriguez' daughter, Kayla Cuevas. Rodriguez, 50, was run over Sept. 14 while arguing with Drago about the memorial on a Brentwood cul-de-sac. Kayla Cuevas, 16, and her friend Nisa Mickens, 15, were found dead two years before at that spot. The girls are believed to have been killed by MS-13 gang members, and Rodriguez gained national prominence speaking out about the gang.

Defense attorney Stephen Kunken of Commack asked state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho to review prosecutors' presentation to the grand jury, and to let him see how prosecutors instructed the grand jurors on the law. Grand jury proceedings are secret.

"I think there are some serious questions about whether the grand jury was properly instructed," Kunken said, noting that grand jurors typically should be told about factors that may justify actions that would otherwise be criminal. 

Prosecutors declined to comment.

Rodriguez's partner and Kayla's father, Freddy Cuevas, watched the brief court proceeding with about a dozen supporters, and got an update afterward from prosecutors.

"I'm just taking it one day at a time," he said. "Just making sure justice occurs." He said the district attorney's office has kept him well-informed all along.

Kunken said his client is coping as best she can.

"She is bearing up, under the circumstances," he said. "It's a terrible situation for all concerned."

After Drago was indicted in December, Assistant District Attorney Marc Lindemann said Drago was trying to sell her mother's home and felt the memorial — a collection of cards, candles, photos, signs, balloons and an elaborate floral arrangement on a table — would discourage buyers. So, Lindemann said, Drago destroyed it. She stuffed as much of it as she could in a garbage can, popping balloons and smashing vases to make them fit, he said.

The rest, including the table, she threw in the back of her Nissan Rogue, Lindemann said. The house sold days later and Drago made a $19,000 commission on the sale, Lindemann said.

A neighbor alerted Rodriguez to what was happening and she and Cuevas rushed to the scene, Lindemann said.

When they got there, Rodriguez and Cuevas saw Drago and her boyfriend preparing to leave for a weekend upstate, Lindemann said. Rodriguez and Cuevas demanded their property back. They made no threats and had no weapons, Lindemann said, adding that Cuevas warned Drago that if she moved her car she'd hit Rodriguez.

But she accelerated, Lindemann said. The impact knocked Rodriguez down and the Rogue's rear wheel rolled over her body, he said. Drago remained at the scene.

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