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Long IslandCrime

Attorneys: Brentwood killings defense will take until end of year

Freddy Cuevas and his wife, Evelyn Rodriquez, center,

Freddy Cuevas and his wife, Evelyn Rodriquez, center, parents of gang-slaying victim Kayla Cuevas, leave court on Monday, with Elizabeth Alvarado, mother of another gang-slaying victim Nisa Mickens. Credit: James Carbone

Attorneys for reputed MS-13 gang leaders accused of killing two Brentwood High School girls said Monday it will take until the end of the year to draft legal arguments why the defendants should be spared the death penalty.

The two alleged leaders of the Brentwood Sailors clique, brothers Alexi Saenz, 23, and Jairo Saenz, 21, were arraigned in Central Islip federal court in connection with three other killings.

One of Alexi Saenz’s attorneys, David Ruhnke, of New Jersey, argued that given the new murder charges, it would take the defense even longer to prepare briefs arguing against the federal government’s seeking the death penalty. He was joined in the argument by one of Jairo Saenz’s attorneys, Kelley Sharkey, of Brooklyn.

Alexi Saenz, who uses the nicknames “Big Homie” or “Blasty”, is the leader of the Brentwood clique and Jairo Saenz, who uses the nickname “Funny”, is the No. 2 in the clique, Eastern District prosecutors say.

The two previously had been accused in the Sept. 13, 2016, killings of Nisa Mickens, 15, and her friend, Kayla Cuevas, 16. Cuevas had previously gotten into disputes with MS-13 members, prosecutors have said. As she walked with Mickens, MS-13 members in the area seeking rival gang members to harm saw the friends, prosecutors said.

Using the bats and machetes, the attackers then killed Mickens and Cuevas, police said.

The Saenz brothers had pleaded not guilty to the killings.

Monday’s hearing involved allegations that the Saenz brothers also took part in the 2016 murders of three people they believed were members of rival gangs. The pair are accused in the April 2016 killing of Oscar Acosta in Brentwood as well as the killings that October of Javier Castillo in Freeport, and Dewann Stacks in Brentwood, according to court papers.

Both Saenz brothers pleaded not guilty to those three killings Monday. U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco ordered the brothers to continue being held without bail pending future hearings.

Seeking the death penalty at a federal trial is a complex procedure involving local and federal prosecutors who then pass their recommendations on to prosecutors at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. Ultimately, the U.S. Attorney General makes the final decision.

The only person facing a federal death sentence in the New York area recently had it overturned by a federal judge who thought the defendant was not intelligent enough to warrant capital punishment.

A number of other alleged MS-13 gang members were arraigned individually Monday on a variety of federal charges including murder, attempted murder, assault, drug dealing and arson.

One of the suspected MS-13 members arraigned was Kevin Torres, 22, of Roosevelt, who is reputed to be the overall leader of the Sailors group in New York. Torres pleaded not guilty to involvement in the killing of Acosta.

Judge Bianco set Oct. 5 as the next hearing date in the cases of the Saenz brothers, Torres and seven other alleged MS-13 gang members.

Attorneys for Torres and the other defendants who could be reached, declined to comment, as did federal prosecutors John Durham, Paul Scotti and Michael Keilty.

Monday’s defendants are among the more than two dozen reputed members of MS-13 who are facing charges in the Central Islip court.

The more than two dozen were indicted in a variety of violent crimes, including 15 murders, as a result of the work of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force and local police, according to prosecutors.

The gang members have been broken into several groups, to have a reasonable number of defendants at a trial.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the victim who prosecutors have said had gotten into disputes with gang members.

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