An alleged MS-13 member is facing murder charges in the machete slayings of two victims who became targets because of the gang's belief that they may have belonged to the rival 18th Street gang, police said Friday.
Kevin G. Lopez-Morales, 20, of Roosevelt, pleaded not guilty at a Hempstead district court arraignment Friday in the July 2017 killing of Angel Soler, 15, and the September 2016 slaying of Josue Amaya Leonor, 19.
Both victims were from Roosevelt and a coalition of local and federal law enforcement officials separately uncovered their buried remains in wooded areas on Long Island's South Shore after each went missing.
Alleged MS-13 member pleads not guilty in killingCourt records say defendant Jose Lopez told police he took part in both the victim's machete killing and burial in the woods.
Lopez-Morales kept his head down and didn't speak as reporters lobbed questions at him while homicide detectives led him out of Nassau County Police Department headquarters on the way to court.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas made a rare appearance in arraignment court Friday for Lopez-Morales' proceeding.
"The gruesomeness and savagery of this gang will not be tolerated in Nassau County," she said later in a court hallway.
Singas added that law enforcement officials believe they have been successful in putting "tremendous pressure on MS-13" and it has weakened the gang.
"We will be unrelenting in our pursuit of this gang . . . I think they feel vulnerable, as they should, because the heat is on," she added.
Authorities said Friday that all five suspects in Soler's slaying were in custody, but some suspects in Amaya Leonor's killing remained at large.
The police department's homicide unit commander, Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, said Lopez-Morales was part of MS-13's Hollywood clique. When confronted by authorities while in custody on an immigration hold, he "made some incriminating statements" and now faces charges in both killings, according to the police official.
Fitzpatrick said Lopez-Morales is from El Salvador and had one prior arrest involving marijuana that took place in the last year.
The homicide commander said both Soler and Amaya Leonor were "marked by this group as possible members of a rival gang, particularly the 18th Street gang" and "that's why they went after them."
Fitzpatrick said authorities would keep the pressure on MS-13, saying he believed law enforcement officials "have them on the defensive."
In Amaya Leonor's death, he said law enforcement officials believed "at least seven" people took part in the killing.
Four of the people involved in Soler's slaying also were part of Amaya Leonor's killing, Fitzpatrick said, adding that authorities were "still looking to charge people" in Amaya Leonor's case.
Police have only announced two arrests so far in Amaya Leonor's killing. Alleged MS-13 Hollywood clique member Josė Daniel Lopez, 19, of Roosevelt, pleaded not guilty in that slaying Thursday in Nassau County Court following a grand jury's August indictment of him on a second-degree murder charge.
Court records say Lopez told police MS-13 members lured Amaya Leonor into the woods with the promise of marijuana, before repeatedly hitting him with machetes and burying him in a pre-dug grave because he was believed to be part of the 18th Street gang.
Authorities recovered Amaya Leonor's remains May 30 in the Roosevelt Preserve, nearly two years after he went missing in September 2016.
Law enforcement officials found Soler's body in October 2017 in woods on the border of Roosevelt and Baldwin, nearly three months after he went missing.
The other four people facing charges in Soler's death are: David Sosa-Guevara, 27, of Wyandanch; Victor Lopez, 30, of Roosevelt; Dennis Lopez, 18, of Freeport; and Josue Figueroa-Velasquez, 18, of Freeport.
A January indictment that charged Sosa-Guevara and Victor Lopez with Soler's killing alleged Sosa-Guevara, who uses the street name "Risky," is the head of MS-13's Hollywood clique on Long Island.
It alleged Victor Lopez "was in charge of enforcement" for the clique, and Dennis Lopez, who uses the street name "Maliante," moved weapons, money and drugs for the gang.