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Defense attacks government witness in MS-13 murder case

Attorneys for two alleged MS-13 members on trial in a Hempstead shooting attacked the credibility of a government cooperator Wednesday, and said a recording from a detective’s confidential informant casts further doubt on their clients’ purported roles in the 2017 slaying.

But a Nassau prosecutor said during his closing argument in the trial of Pedro Rivera, 25, and Carlos Flores, 26, that other evidence backed up the cooperating witness’ account and showed the defendants were guilty of murder, conspiracy and gun charges in the “execution” of Nelson Rodriguez.

Prosecutor Jared Rosenblatt also criticized the work of the interpreter who translated the police informant’s recording from Spanish into English to create a transcript for the trial as being “sloppy.”

He added that the informant’s conversation with an alleged MS-13 leader — recorded secretly — only showed the reputed gangster was taking credit for his criminal syndicate’s work and not that he was the triggerman.

Prosecutors have alleged Rivera shot Rodriguez, 37, of Hempstead, in his head and back as he walked along Front Street. Flores had ordered the slaying while driving five other MS-13 gangsters as the group looked  to kill a member of the 14th Street Gang, prosecutors said.

“This murder was MS-13 letting Hempstead know that Front Street … would be their territory,” Rosenblatt said Wednesday in Nassau County Court in Mineola.

Cooperating government witness Hector Lazo, 19, previously testified he was among the MS-13 members who went on that March 20, 2017 hunt in a Honda Accord.

Their goal, Lazo said, was to kill to avenge the beating of one of the other passengers days earlier by that rival organization — also known as the Latin Pride Gang.

But Lazo said instead they came upon Rodriguez, and Flores gave the order to kill Rodriguez because of a belief he was part of a different rival organization, the 18th Street Gang.

Lazo said Rivera got out of the Honda with a gun and he heard two or three gunshots before Rivera ran back to the car and put the weapon into his waistband.

The cooperating witness said Rivera then remarked that he’d taken the victim’s phone to make the shooting look like a robbery.

Lazo, who pleaded guilty to murder and manslaughter in the case, also told jurors he struck a deal for 10 years in prison instead of 25 years to life in exchange for testifying truthfully for the prosecution.

But Rivera’s attorney, John Healy, and Flores’ attorney, Greg Madey, portrayed Lazo as a liar in their closing arguments and emphasized how his account changed over time.

Lazo told detectives and the grand jury that four people were in the Honda, according to the defense.

But Lazo said during the trial that alleged MS-13 higher-ups Ramon Martines and Raul Ponce also were in the car and he’d been scared to mention them initially.

“We know that Lazo’s current account isn’t the truth because the truth never changes over time,” Healy said Wednesday.

Records show Ponce is in jail awaiting trial after his arrests in connection with two other slayings and a perjury charge and Martines is serving a 3-year prison sentence for a weapon-related conviction.

Healy also criticized law enforcement officials for not handing over what he called the “exculpatory” recording of the informant speaking to Martines in the summer of 2017 until after the murder trial started last month.

The defense attorney said Martines admitted to being either the shooter or the driver and said at least one person charged in the case — then only Lazo and Rivera — was the wrong person.

Rosenblatt conceded the Hempstead Village detective who obtained the recording erred by not sharing it until recently with prosecutors — who then disclosed it to the defense as required.

Jury deliberations are expected to start Thursday.

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