An admitted member of the MS-13 gang who pleaded guilty to racketeering Monday admitted that he had participated in the June 2016 slaying of a fellow gang member whose skeletal remains were found several months later on the grounds of the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center in Brentwood.
Elmer Alexander Lopez, 20, also told U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bianco in Central Islip that he took part in the attempted murder of a rival gang member one month later, in July 2016.
Lopez, of Central Islip, also known as “Smiley,” “Little Smiley” and “Alex,” displayed little emotion as he described how he and other MS-13 members drove to a wooded, secluded section of Brentwood nearly two years ago to kill Jose Pena, a fellow gang member. Pena, 18, traveled in another car with other gang members, unaware that he was about to be murdered for violating gang rules.
“I and others stabbed Jose Pena until he was dead,” Lopez said through a Spanish-language interpreter while Pena’s mother sobbed quietly in the courtroom. She declined to comment or give her name to reporters after Monday’s plea hearing.
Pena’s remains were discovered in October 2016 in a wooded section of the former psychiatric institution.
Bianco told Lopez the maximum sentence for racketeering is life in prison, but Lopez’s attorney Florian Miedel of Manhattan said federal sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of 24 to 29 years in prison. Lopez is scheduled to return to court on Sept. 13 for sentencing.
Miedel said Lopez is not cooperating with the government.
“He pleaded guilty because he wants to accept responsibility for what he has done,” Miedel said after Monday’s hearing.
Lopez also acknowledged that he participated in an attempt to kill a member of a rival gang member in July 2016. Lopez said he was driving around Brentwood with other MS-13 members when they spotted the rival, identified in court and in legal papers as “John Doe 4” playing basketball.
Lopez said one MS-13 member handed a gun to another and ordered him to shoot the rival. The rival was injured but survived, federal prosecutor John Durham told Bianco.
Durham said Lopez was “acting as a lookout, support for the guys who carried out the shooting.”
Other defendants named in a superseding indictment filed and unsealed March 16 are accused of fatally beating Brentwood High School students Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, with baseball bats and machetes in Sept. 2016. The indictment does not charge Lopez in the Mickens and Cuevas slayings.
Those slayings -- and the brutal deaths of four young men whose bodies were found in a Central Islip park in April 2017 -- have drawn attention from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump.