The mother of an MS-13 murder victim sobbed at a kitchen table Wednesday as she told a Nassau judge during a Skype sentencing for her son’s killer that her heart was broken even though justice was being done.
“He took the life of my son … I have such a pain in my heart,” Ian Cruz’s mother said through a Spanish language interpreter as Yonathan Sanchez, 24, listened from Nassau’s jail.
Authorities said the Far Rockaway man is the leader of a Queens clique of the gang and uses the street name “Turbo.” Sanchez agreed to be sentenced by video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic after pleading guilty in March to two murder counts.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Tammy S. Robbins sentenced the El Salvador native to 34 years to life in prison, telling Cruz’s mother she could feel her pain and hoped she found “some kind of peace in the future.”
Prosecutors said Sanchez separately shot two people at close range during a killing spree in December 2018 that started when he fired four gunshots into the head of Cruz, 23, in Bayswater Point State Park in Far Rockaway.
“These were brutal, senseless and unprovoked murders of two young men. … They had their lives ahead of them and due to your acts, their lives were cut short,” the judge told Sanchez.
The spree, which stretched to Nassau, was an effort to gain rank in the gang and establish a new branch in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway areas, according to the Nassau district attorney’s office.
Authorities also arrested five others in the case, including a 13-year-old girl who prosecutors said lured the victims to their executions after contact through social media and text messages.
Four co-defendants are awaiting trial, and a male who was 15 when arrested pleaded guilty to murder and is awaiting sentencing, according to authorities.
Other MS-13 members saw Facebook photos of Cruz and made Sanchez believe Cruz was disrespecting the gang, leading to his brutal murder, Nassau prosecutor Stefanie Palma said during Wednesday’s sentencing.
Two days after Cruz’s murder, Sanchez shot Harold Sermeno, 17, of Far Rockaway, and another defendant cut the teenager’s neck with a machete, according to prosecutors.
Palma said Sermeno was tricked into saying something negative about MS-13 before the gang ambushed him behind Five Towns Community Center in Nassau – where police recovered his body on Dec. 18, 2018.
Five defendants first had faced charges in Queens, but authorities decided to prosecute the group in Nassau – which the law allows when crimes happen close to the border.
Sanchez’s attorney, Michael Horn, of Astoria, said previously his client doesn’t contest being part of MS-13. He said after the sentencing that his client came “from a very tough place” in his home country where people “are not taught … the same value on human life.”
The attorney added: “I think that he wishes he knew then what he knows now and I hope that one day he is able to be a productive citizen.”
Cruz’s mother on Wednesday also thanked authorities for getting justice “even though I know that they are not going to bring back my son.”
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement that the murders were “part of MS-13’s failed campaign for dominance.”
She also thanked the NYPD, Nassau police, the FBI Long Island Gang Task Force and Queens prosecutors for cooperating in the case and said Sanchez “will join his many fellow gang members spending decades to life behind bars.”