The U.S. Justice Department will not seek the death penalty for MS-13 leader Alexi Saenz for his alleged role in the killing of a Central Islip man in September 2016, prosecutors with the Eastern District of New York said.
Prosecutors announced the DOJ was reversing its Trump-era decision to seek the death penalty for Saenz for his role in the death of Marcus Bohannon in a letter sent late Wednesday to U.S. District Judge Gary R. Brown. Brown is expected to oversee the trial of Saenz and his brother, Jairo Saenz, who are charged with multiple gang killings. The trial is scheduled to begin on March 4 in federal court in Central Islip.
“We write on behalf of the government in the above-captioned matter to advise the Court that the government has been authorized and directed by United States Attorney General Merrick B. Garland not to seek the death penalty against defendant Alexi Saenz for the murder of Marcus Bohannon,” the letter said.
Attorneys for Alexi Saenz did not immediately return calls for comment.
The Justice Department had already announced in early November that it would forgo capital punishment for Alexi Saenz and Jairo Saenz for their involvement in the slayings of seven other victims, including the 2016 killings of two Brentwood teenagers.
Alexi Saenz, 28, also known as “Blasty” and “Big Homie,” was the leader of MS-13’s Brentwood and Central Islip-based Sailors Locos Salvatruchas Westside clique. His 27-year-old brother, Jairo Saenz of Central Islip — also known as "Funny" — was his No. 2, according to prosecutors.
The government filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty against the Saenz brothers in 2020 in connection with their alleged roles in the September 2016 killings of Brentwood teens Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15; slayings that focused the nation’s attention on Long Island’s gang violence.
The brothers are also charged in the deaths of Michael Johnson, Oscar Acosta, Javier Castillo, Dewann Stacks and Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla.
The killings received nationwide attention and Cuevas’ mother, Evelyn Rodriguez, became an anti-gang activist who was the guest of then-President Trump during the 2018 State of the Union address.
Rodriguez met with Trump later that year when he visited Brentwood to talk about gang violence with local leaders. Rodriguez was killed in 2018, two years to the day her daughter’s battered body was found, during a confrontation with driver Ann Marie Drago, who authorities said ran her over with a Nissan Rogue.
A Suffolk judge declared a mistrial in Drago's second trial on the top charge of criminally negligent homicide after the jury failed to reach a verdict in October. Drago's first trial ended in a guilty verdict, though her conviction was later overturned. Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney said his office is ready to retry Drago on the charge.
"There is no justice for Evelyn right now," said Barbara Medina, Rodriguez's friend and fellow activist. "It is disheartening to hear the Department of Justice has ruled out the death penalty … These brothers, they were barbarians in their acts."
Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty against the Saenz brothers in 2020. Attorneys for the defendants asked the DOJ to reconsider that decision after President Biden assumed office and appointed Garland.
The Justice Department halted executions in 2021 after a historic use of capital punishment by the Trump administration, which carried out 13 executions in the last six months of the former president’s term. The department, however, continued to push to uphold the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The Saenz brothers face multiple charges, including racketeering, murder, attempted murder, assault, obstruction of justice, arson and related firearms and conspiracy charges. They face up to life in prison if convicted, prosecutors say.