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Teen should be tried as adult in MS-13 killings, appeals court rules

Murder victims Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Florida, Michael

Murder victims Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Florida, Michael Banegas, 18, of Brentwood, Jorge Tigre and Justin Llivicura, 16, of Bellport. All are believed to be the four victims found in the park in Central Islip on Wednesday, April 12, 1017. Credit: Family handouts

A teenage girl should be tried as an adult — not as a minor — for instigating, planning and luring four young people to brutal deaths at the hands of MS-13 gang members in the woods of Central Islip on April 11, 2017, a federal appeals court said, upholding a lower court's decision.

Eight months before the girl turned 18, prosecutors say, the victims, Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport; Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue; Michael Lopez Banagas, 20, of Brentwood; and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida, were killed with machetes, knives, clubs, tree limbs, and an ax. 

One day later, the girl, whose identity would be revealed at trial, cryptically described the crime and her role to her imprisoned boyfriend, said to belong to MS-13, on a recorded line, prosecutors say.

The girl, nicknamed "Diablita" or "Little Devil," prosecutors say, also tried destroy evidence, lied to officers, and urged the suspects to flee.

Her attorney, Jesse M. Siegel of Manhattan, said he does not concede the nickname is hers and may appeal the ruling. "There is a statute that provides for and creates a presumption in favor of treating juveniles as juveniles," he said. "We believe that the court put undue influence on the seriousness of the offenses charged."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied his claim that the lower court gave too much weight to the nature of the crime and the girl's age, saying "intentional murder" justified that emphasis.

Despite her exemplary behavior and schoolwork while awaiting trial, the lower court found that "her age and lack of support structure, in conjunction with her deep loyalty to the MS-13 gang, strongly favor transferring her to adult status." The girl was abused by the relatives and friends in this country, where she was born, and in Honduras, the court said.

Four MS-13 members are waiting to be tried for the four murders: Alexis Hernandez, Santos Leonel Ortiz-Flores, Omar Villalta and Edwin Diaz, prosecutors say. Two gang members pleaded guilty, prosecutors say, and were sentenced: Josue Portillo to 55 years, and Freiry Martinez to 50 years.

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