Four MS-13 gang members were charged Monday in connection with four Suffolk County killings — a pair of random shootings and the execution of rivals that federal prosecutors said underscores the gang’s “thirst for murder and mayhem.”
Two of the victims, Keenan Russell, 21, and Derrick Mayes, both of Central Islip, were shot to death two days apart in May 2013 because they each wore an item of red clothing, officials said, and were mistakenly thought to be members of the predominantly black Bloods street gang, whose symbolic color is red.
One of the other victims, Jonathan Cardona-Hernandez, 16, of Central Islip, was believed by MS-13 to belong to a rival gang, and the fourth victim, Jose Lainez-Murcia, 27, of Brentwood, was suspected of being an assassin-for-hire who had killed MS-13 members in El Salvador, officials said. Both were targeted for execution, authorities said.
Federal prosecutors charged three MS-13 members with murder and identified them as Edwin Amaya-Sanchez, 29, of Brentwood; William Castellanos, 19, of Central Islip; and Jhonny Contreras, 22, of Brentwood. They could face the death penalty, officials said. A fourth MS-13 member, Reynaldo Lopez-Alvarado, 24, of Brentwood, faces a charge of attempted murder.
The defendants also were charged with conspiracy, arson, obstruction of justice and firearms violations, according to officials.
“The senseless and depraved violence reflected in the devastating loss of life allegedly at the hands of these defendants and their fellow gang members is a trademark of the MS-13. Whether it is random violence exemplified by the murders of Derrick Mayes and Keenan Russell, or the targeted executions of Jose Lainez-Murcia and Jonathan Cardona-Hernandez, the MS-13’s thirst for murder and mayhem is a threat to our communities,” said Eastern District United States Attorney Robert Capers in a statement. “This office and our law enforcement partners will continue our steadfast resolve to dismantle the MS-13 and keep our communities safe from gang violence.”
Mayes and Russell were shot to death in May 2013 around the Memorial Day weekend. Both were killed because MS-13 gangsters were driving around randomly looking for rival gang members to shoot, officials said.
“Mayes and Russell . . . were murdered because of the color of their skin, the neighborhood they were in, and the incorrect assumption that they were rival gang members,” Eastern District prosecutors John Durham and Paul Scotti wrote in court papers.
Mayes was found shot to death on Wilson Boulevard. Two days later Russell was shot down on Acorn Avenue in front of a house where a birthday party was breaking up, authorities said.
The killing of Mayes, a warehouse worker, and Russell, an aspiring rapper — along with a third killing at the same time but unrelated to gang activity in Central Islip — caused Suffolk police to reverse a decision a year before and rejoin the FBI’s Long Island anti-gang task force.
Lainez-Murcia was found shot to death inside a car parked in front of a Brentwood house in July 2014. There were bullet holes in the car window, according to police.
At the time of the killing, a neighbor, who did not wish to be identified, said that Lainez-Murica had moved into the house on Twinlawns Lane four or five months earlier. The neighbor said Lainez-Murica worked as a landscaper and rented a room in the house, lived alone and kept to himself.
Cardona-Hernandez, 16, of Central Islip, was found shot to death on Nicoll Avenue in Central Islip on July 1, 2015. Sources said he belonged to an otherwise unaffiliated local gang — Lblock, after Lowell Avenue — considered an MS-13 rival.
Amaya-Sanchez, Contreras, and Lopez-Alvarado pleaded not guilty at arraignment Monday before U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco, who ordered them held without bail as a danger to the community. Arraignment for Castellanos is scheduled for a later date.
The other charges involve the destruction of a van that allegedly was used in some of the killings and the use of firearms in the commission of a crime, authorities said.