An 18-year-old from El Salvador turned on two of his alleged former MS-13 gang cohorts Wednesday, testifying that they played a role in a 2017 deadly shooting in Hempstead.
Pedro Rivera, 25, and Carlos Flores, 26, are standing trial in Nassau County Court on second-degree murder, first-degree conspiracy and weapon charges in the slaying of Nelson Rodriguez, 37, of Hempstead.
The prosecution’s cooperating witness, Hector Lazo, said from the witness stand that he struck a deal to testify in exchange for 10 years in prison instead of 25 years to life behind bars.
Records show Lazo, who turns 19 on Thursday, already pleaded guilty to murder and manslaughter in the case.
Prosecutors say MS-13 targeted Rodriguez out of a belief that he was part of the rival 18th Street Gang, with Rivera firing the gun and Flores ordering the killing and driving the getaway car during the slaying on March 20, 2017.
Rodriguez was shot in the head and back as he walked along Front Street, according to authorities.
Lazo testified that six MS-13 gang members, including Rivera, Flores and himself, went on a hunt that evening in a white Honda Accord to try to kill a member of the 14th Street Gang — also called the Latin Pride Gang.
Revenge was the motive after one of the MS-13 members in the car had been jumped by that gang days earlier, according to the witness.
But when the Honda reached Front Street, they saw a man who was believed to be part of the 18th Street Gang, another rival of MS-13, Lazo said.
That’s when Flores gave the order to kill that man, according to the witness, who also said during questioning by prosecutor Jared Rosenblatt that Flores did so by saying the target was going "to disappear.”
Lazo testified further that he saw Rivera get out of the Honda with a gun and that the car circled in the area before he heard two or three gunshots and then saw Rivera running toward the car.
The witness said Rivera put the gun in his waistband and remarked that he’d taken the victim’s phone so the shooting would look like a robbery.
That’s when Flores threatened death for anyone who spoke about the slaying, according to the cooperating witness.
“He said if anyone spoke up they would end up the same way,” Lazo testified through a Spanish language court interpreter, as Flores and Rivera listened from the defense table.
The former restaurant cook said he had handled drug deals for MS-13, which he said sometimes recruits members by giving those without homes a place to sleep and food to eat.
Lazo said Rivera and Flores were “homeboys,” or high up in gang’s rankings, and that he had been a low-ranking member before leaving MS-13 after his July 2017 arrest.
Flores’ attorney, Greg Madey, drilled Lazo about why he initially told detectives that only four people were in the Honda instead of six.
Lazo said he didn’t mention the presence of two other gang higher-ups out of fear.
His cross-examination will continue Thursday.
Both Madey and Rivera’s attorney, John Healy, declined to comment after court.