Jury selection began on Monday in Riverhead in the retrial of Ann Marie Drago for the death of anti-gang activist Evelyn Rodriguez. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone; File Footage; Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Jury selection will begin Monday in the second trial of a Patchogue nurse whose criminally negligent homicide conviction was overturned in the 2018 death of Brentwood anti-gang activist Evelyn Rodriguez.

Ann Marie Drago, 62, of Patchogue, will stand trial before Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro in Riverhead this month. Opening arguments are expected Oct. 10, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

Drago was convicted in March 2020 for killing Rodriguez by driving over her on the same Brentwood street where Rodriguez's daughter, Kayla Cuevas, was killed by MS-13 gang members two years earlier. Drago had been sentenced to nine months in state prison but spent only a week behind bars before the judge who presided over her first trial granted her release while she appealed.

Drago’s conviction was ultimately overturned in July 2022, when a state appeals court ruled prosecutors made improper comments during her three-week trial before then-acting State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho.

The four-judge panel of the Brooklyn-based New York Supreme Court Appellate Division said prosecutor Marc Lindemann, during his summation, “mischaracterized the evidence relating to the charge of criminally negligent homicide and confused the jury by repeatedly using language to suggest that the defendant’s conduct in striking Rodriguez with the vehicle was intentional or reckless."

The ruling added that the prosecutor “continually evoked sympathy for Rodriguez by calling her a 'grieving mother' and referencing her 'murdered daughter' while the prosecutor continually denigrated the defense, referring to defense theories, repeatedly, as 'excuses,' and also as 'garbage,' and he falsely and provocatively claimed that the 'defense repeatedly argued that the death of Kayla … was an inconvenience and a nuisance.'"

Lindemann has since left the district attorney’s office.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, who had not yet been elected when Drago was tried the first time, announced last August that his office would retry the case.

Rodriguez, a Brentwood resident, had set up the memorial in front of the home of Drago’s mother before a vigil that was planned to mark the two-year anniversary of the discovery of Kayla’s remains on the property.

Rodriguez suffered a fractured skull and brain injury less than 300 feet from that location in an encounter that News 12 Long Island recorded on video, a key piece of evidence that was played for the jury at trial.

Drago said at her sentencing that she was sorry for what she called “an instinctive decision” that caused Rodriguez’s “very tragic and unnecessary death.”

The defendant, who also was convicted of criminal mischief and petit larceny, pledged then to “take my punishment, whatever the court decides.”

Drago’s former attorney, Stephen Kunken, had told jurors that the crash on Sept. 14, 2018, was a “tragic accident.” He said Drago had feared for her life after Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, Rodriguez’s partner and Kayla’s father, ran up to her Nissan and shouted expletives while pointing at her.

Rodriguez received nationwide attention as an activist for speaking out against MS-13 after she was the guest of then-President Donald Trump during a 2018 State of the Union. 

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