Bleeding victim tried to reach out to alleged MS-13 associate, witness testifies
A victim of a fatal MS-13 machete attack reached out to alleged MS-13 associate Leniz Escobar as he lay bleeding on the ground in a Central Islip park in April 2017, a witness testified Thursday.
But Keyli Gomez, an admitted MS-13 associate and then-close friend of Escobar -- who prosecutors said lured five young men to the park, where four were killed by machete-wielding MS-13 gang members -- told a jury that the then-17-year-old woman reacted coldly.
“Michael [Lopez] apologized to Leniz and touched her arm” after the gang members beat him and the other victims bloody and told them they needed to respect MS-13, Gomez, now 21, of Central Islip, recalled the witness in federal court in Central Islip Thursday.
Asked about how Escobar responded to Lopez by prosecutor Megan Farrell, Gomez said: “Nothing. She just smiled.”
Escobar, 22, of Central Islip — who prosecutors said was nicknamed "La Diablita," or the little devil — is on trial on charges of murder and racketeering in connection with April 11, 2017, killings of Lopez, 20; Jorge Tigre, 18; Jefferson Villalobos, 18; and Justin Llivicura, 16. Elmer Alexander Artiaga-Ruiz, now 22, testified earlier that he escaped the attack by running and jumping over a fence.
Gomez said that after the young women — then 16 and 17 respectively — got the five young men deep inside a wooded area of the park, the gang members approached. The victims ran, but only one escaped and gang members began beating the remaining four, said Gomez, a cooperating witness.
“They [the gang members] were telling them the Mara should be respected,” said Gomez, who said she and Escobar knelt on the ground and “pretended” to be victims, too. Escobar later discarded the sweatshirt she was wearing the night of the killings, because Lopez’s blood was on it, Gomez said.
Federal prosecutors have said Escobar, a “devoted” associate of the gang who was dating a high-ranking member, lured the men to the park under the guise of smoking marijuana, while knowing MS-13 gang members would show up there to kill them, to gain respect from the gang.
Prosecutors have said Artiaga-Ruiz, who has posted photos on social media making gang signs, was not a gang member but posted the photos in an attempt to gain favorable attention.
Gomez was arrested in North Carolina months after the killings and ultimately agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. She has pleaded guilty to her role in the killings in 2018 and is awaiting sentencing.
Gomez's attorney Anthony LaPinta said Thursday, "While under an enormous amount of stress and pressure, Keyli did very well testifying truthfully about her role in this conspiracy when she was 16 years old."
On the day of the killings, Gomez said she told Escobar she "didn't feel like going out," but Escobar replied: "We have to do this together."
Asked if she would have brought Artiaga-Ruiz and his friends to the park that night without Escobar, Gomez said no.
"I would not have the courage," Gomez said.
On cross-examination, Escobar’s attorney Jesse Siegel asked Gomez if she had “practiced” that answer and response with prosecutors.
Gomez said she had, and added: “In reality, I would not have had the courage to do it myself.”