An MS-13 member, who was 15 years old when four young men were killed in a Central Islip park, pleaded guilty Friday to taking part in the April 2017 crime.
Shortly before pleading to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bianco in Central Islip, Freiry Martinez, now 17, voluntarily agreed to be treated as an adult.
Martinez, of Brentwood, was one of a dozen people, six of them juveniles at the time, who took part in the killings, according to federal prosecutors.
Martinez pleaded guilty to a single count of racketeering with five predicate acts: conspiracy to murder rival gang members, and four individual counts of murder — one for each of the victims.
The four killed were: Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue; Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport; Michael Lopez Benegas, 20, of Brentwood; and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida.
Before his plea, Martinez, admitted that he used a machete to “hit someone repeatedly … Justin Llivicura.”
Other gang members also struck Llivicura, Martinez said, speaking in Spanish with his words being translated by an interpreter.
Martinez said he and other MS-13 members planned the attack in order to kill “members of a rival gang who had disrespected the MS-13.” Martinez identified the rival gang as 18th Street.
Families of the victims have denied that they were members of any gang.
Martinez said the victims were lured to the park by two young women who said they were going there to “smoke weed.” When the victims got to the park, they were surrounded by MS-13 members who attacked them with machetes, knives and clubs, Martinez said.
In August, another juvenile MS-13 member, who was also 15 at the time, pleaded guilty to being involved in the killings of the four young men.
Newsday has reported that gang experts and sources have attributed the recent increase in MS-13 violence to a small fraction of the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have entered the country from Central America since 2015. These teenagers are eager to prove themselves to be even more violent than previous gang members who have been arrested, experts have said.
Eastern District United States Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement released after the Martinez plea: "Prosecution by prosecution, defendant by defendant we are dismantling MS-13 through an effort that will not end until they are ended.”
Since 2003, Donoghue said his office and the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, working with local law enforcement, have arrested and successfully prosecuted hundreds of MS-13 members, including dozens of clique leaders for murders, attempted murders and assaults.
The killings of the four young men, and that of two high school girls, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, also allegedly by MS-13 in September 2016, have intensified focus on the gang. President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have vowed to eliminate MS-13.
Martinez’s attorney, Martin Geduldig, of Garden City, said afterward: "It’s a tragedy for everyone concerned.”
Geduldig said his client lived by himself and had come to the country alone from El Salvador.
Eastern District federal prosecutors John Durham, Raymond Tierney and Paul Scotti declined to comment.