A federal judge sentenced an MS-13 member to 25 years in prison Tuesday for the June 2016 murder of a fellow gang member whose skeletal remains were later found on the grounds of the former Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood.
Elmer Alexander Lopez, 21, faced more than 30 years in prison but U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bianco said the Central Islip man deserved some leniency because he has expressed remorse for his role in the execution-style slaying of Jose Pena.
Lopez and his attorneys told Bianco during his sentencing hearing in federal court in Central Islip that the MS-13 member had experienced a religious transformation during the past 20 months. Lopez said he now prays to become “a good person in society.”
Lopez, who prosecutors have said was a member of the Centrales Locos Salvatruchas clique also told the judge: “I beg for forgiveness not only from my family but for the family of the victim."
Pena’s mother, who held her son’s funeral card as she sat through Tuesday’s hearing, declined to read a victim impact statement but told reporters afterward that the sentence was just.
“No sorry, no amount of regret will bring my son back,” she said.
Prosecutors asked members of the news media not to identify Pena’s mother because relatives of MS-13 victims have been threatened.
Lopez's attorney, Florian Miedel of Manhattan, said Lopez also deserved leniency because he was a “follower,” not a gang leader. Bianco was not swayed by that argument.
“The sentences for behavior like this will be substantial," Bianco told Lopez, "even if you are not a leader of the gang."
Lopez blew a kiss to relatives at the hearing but did not speak to them. His relatives declined to speak to reporters afterward.
Prosecutors said Lopez, also known as “Smiley,” “Little Smiley” and “Alex,” was among a group of MS-13 members who killed Pena because they believed he was gay and had cooperated with law-enforcement officials — both violations of the gang’s rules.
Lopez and other co-conspirators plotted Pena’s killing after receiving permission from MS-13 leaders in El Salvador, prosecutors said. On June 3, 2016, Lopez and others drove with Pena to a secluded area in Brentwood that had been a regular hangout spot for the gang members. Pena’s MS-13 associates then turned on him, stabbing and slashing him with knives until he was dead, prosecutors said.
Pena’s body was discovered on Oct. 17, 2016 — four months after his slaying.
Lopez has also acknowledged he participated in a July 2016 attempt to kill a member of a rival gang, the Goon Squad. Lopez said that as he drove in Brentwood with other MS-13 members, they spotted the rival, identified in court and in legal papers as “John Doe 4," playing basketball.
Lopez has said one MS-13 member handed a gun to another and ordered him to shoot the rival. The rival was injured but survived.
Lopez was one of several defendants named in a superseding indictment filed and unsealed March 16 that also accused MS-13 members of fatally beating Brentwood High School students Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, with baseball bats and machetes in September 2016. The indictment does not charge Lopez in the Mickens and Cuevas slayings.
Those killings — and the deaths of four young men whose bodies were found in a Central Islip park in April 2017 — have drawn international attention to Long Island and have played a central role in President Donald Trump’s aggressive stance against immigrants living in the country illegally.