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Lawyers give closing statements in murder trial of accused MS-13 gang member

An MS-13 gang associate was given four chances to back down from participating in a plot to kill a rival gang member, but declined, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday in summing up at the government’s case against Jose Sanchez.

At one point, Sanchez, 24, of Central Islip, disparaged his mentor in the gang for even suggesting he should not be involved in the murder, said Eastern District federal prosecutor Michael Keilty.

Using a ribald slang term, Sanchez, 24, of Central Islip, told his mentor to be bolder, and added: “you are old enough, already,” Keilty said in federal court in Central Islip.

But Sanchez’s defense attorney, Raymond Colon, of Manhattan, said the account of Sanchez’s supposed anxiousness to participate in a murder, was fabricated by one turncoat member of MS-13, who testified against him in an attempt to get leniency for his part in the murder, as well as other MS-13 related crimes.

Sanchez is on trial on charges of participating in the January 2017 alleged murder by MS-13 members of Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla, in the El Campesino deli in Central Islip, as well as joining in gang members’ brutal beating in December 2016 of two men who supposedly disrespected MS-13 at the Super Taco restaurant in Brentwood.

The murder victim, Alvarado-Bonilla, 29, of Brentwood, was believed to be a member of the bitter rival 18th Street gang, because he was wearing the No. 18 football jersey of Peyton Manning, favored by that gang’s members.

Colon said his client was being falsely implicated by not only the witness who said he tried to convince Sanchez to back out but by other gang members testifying in exchange for possibly reduced sentences for their own crimes

“You’re dealing with a sociopath,” said Colon referring to the cooperating gang members and associates. “They’ll say anything to get out.”

“Jose was foolish to be with them — a poor choice of friends, I get that,“ Colon said, adding that even his supposed location at the murder scene was not proof of guilt.

“Mere presence is not enough,” Colon said, noting that it did not show Sanchez’s state of mind, nor his supposed criminal actions.

Keilty, along with prosecutor Raymond Tierney — who did the government’s closing rebuttal — stressed that the government’s case did not depend only on the detailed testimony of three members or associates of MS-13. There are also “mountains of evidence” including surveillance videos, showing Sanchez involved in the beatings of the two men by the Brentwood restaurant, and gang records of membership activity seized by the FBI, Keilty said.

In addition, the prosecutors said, Sanchez’s cell records placed his phone at the very locations that the cooperators said he was at during the planning and carrying out of the Alvarado-Bonilla murder.

Sanchez is accused of being the driver of the car that took the other participants of the Alvarado-Bonilla murder to and from the scene, and helping to coordinate the attack.

One of the confessed participants in the crime, Kevin Cifuentes, 25, was supposed to remain inside the deli as a gang observer before and after the killing. But he was immediately recognized as an affiliate of MS-13 by responding Suffolk police officers.

Within 35 minutes of the killing, Cifuentes confessed to the crime, and gave details of the plot, including Sanchez’s supposed role, to police and FBI agents, according to prosecutors.

It was Cifuentes who testified that he was rebuked by Sanchez when he told him he could back out of the murder — once at the planning stages of the Alvarado-Bonilla murder, and “three-times” while they filled the gang’s car with gasoline at a service station near the deli just before the killing.    

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