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Feds to seek death penalty against another MS-13 gang member

Jairo Saenz, charged in the killings of two

Jairo Saenz, charged in the killings of two Brentwood girls and five other people, in custody in March 2017.   Credit: Newsday

Federal prosecutors announced Friday that they will seek the death penalty for a second member of the MS-13 street gang in the murder of two teenage Brentwood High School girls and five other people.

The intention to seek the death penalty for Jairo Saenz, 24, the No. 2 in the Brentwood/Central Islip Sailors clique of the gang, was made public in court papers filed by prosecutors in federal court in Central Islip. His brother, Alexi Saenz, the leader of the clique, also faces the death penalty.

"The United States hereby gives notice that it believes that the circumstances of this case is such, that if the defendant Jairo Saenz, also known as 'Funny,' is convicted of any capital offenses relating to the deaths of Michael Johnson, Oscar Acosta, Kayla Cuevas, Nisa Mickens, Javier Castillo, Dewann Stacks, and Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla, a sentence of death is justified and that the United States will seek the death penalty," the prosecutors wrote in their filing.

Kelley Sharkey, one of Jairo Saenz’s attorneys, declined to comment, as did John Marzulli, the spokesman for Eastern District federal prosecutors.

The prosecutors announced in July that the government would seek the death penalty against Alexi Saenz, 25, in the 2016 killing of Cuevas and Mickens and the others in a rash of gang violence on Long Island.

While President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr are strong proponents of the death penalty, it is questionable whether either brother would actually be executed since President-elect Joe Biden is an opponent of the death penalty.

If one of the Saenz brothers were convicted and sentenced to death, it would lead to the first execution for murder by the federal government in New York since 1954.

Prosecutors said the death penalty was appropriate because the killings were carried out "in an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner in that it involved torture and serious physical abuse to the victims."

Prosecutors said other factors in seeking the death penalty for Jairo Saenz and his brother included:

  • The substantial planning and premeditation of the alleged crimes.
  • The accusations of multiple killings or attempted killings.
  • An alleged leadership role.
  • Recruitment and use of juveniles in the crimes.
  • The brothers' potential continuing dangerousness.
  • The impact of the killings on families and others in the community.

"The United States will present information concerning the effects of the offenses on each of the victims and the victims’ families, which may include oral testimony, victim impact statements, evidence of the extent and scope of the injuries and losses suffered by the victims, the victims’ family and friends, and other relevant information," prosecutors said.

In addition to the killings of the girls, Jairo and Alexi Saenz are charged in five other killings committed during a spree that stretched from 2016 to 2017: Michael Johnson in 2016, who might have been mistaken for a rival gang member because he was wearing the red colors of the Bloods; Oscar Acosta in April 2016; Javier Castillo in October 2016; and Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla in January 2017. The Saenz brothers were also charged with the killing in October 2016 of Dewann Stacks.

The determination to seek the death penalty in federal cases involves a complicated, lengthy process, involving input from local and federal prosecutors in Washington, as well as defense attorneys. The eventual decision rests with the attorney general.

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