An alleged MS-13 gang member who authorities said confessed to fatally shooting his classmate outside the victim's East Patchogue home last year was ordered held without bail at his arraignment Tuesday.
Melquisedic Antonio Sanchez-Hernandez, 17, of Bellport, pleaded not guilty in First District Court in Central Islip to a second-degree murder charge in the death of Emilio Sanchez-Maldonado, 17. The victim's father, who attended the arraignment, found his son's body in the early hours of July 3 outside their Hampton Avenue home.
Sanchez-Hernandez, who was arrested Monday, told Suffolk homicide detectives in a “full video confession" that he killed Sanchez-Maldonado because the teenager “started hanging out with a group of black guys, black kids, who [Sanchez-Hernandez] didn’t like,” said Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Kearon.
According to the felony complaint, Sanchez-Hernandez, a native of El Salvador, told police: “I shot him and dumped the shell casings in the water by Shirley.”
The defendant and victim both attended Bellport High School. Sanchez-Hernandez was known to law enforcement as a member of MS-13, while Sanchez-Maldonado, also a native of El Salvador, was an innocent victim, authorities said.
"At the time of his death, the victim was trying to do the right thing," said Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini after the arraignment. "He was attempting to live a law-abiding life and the defendant killed him as a result of folks he was hanging out with and his desire to live a law-abiding life."
Sanchez-Maldonado was shot on July 2 sometime between 10:40 p.m. and 11 p.m. as he left his backyard on a bicycle after being lured outside by Sanchez-Hernandez through social media, prosecutors said.
He was shot five times — three shots causing fatal injuries to the head, stomach and chest, prosecutors said. He was also shot in the ear and finger.
Sini wouldn't say whether police recovered the murder weapon, but said when the defendant confessed, he "identified the gun that he used to kill the victim and it's consistent with the ballistics recovered at the crime scene."
After the arraignment, Sanchez-Maldonado’s uncle, Nahun Cruz, described his nephew as a good kid who loved playing soccer and dreamed of attending college — likely impossible in El Salvador, the uncle noted.
"He came looking for a better life," said Cruz, 36, of Holbrook. "And look what happened."
Jose Antonio Sanchez, the victim's father, declined to comment, saying he didn't speak English. He left work early on July 3 after Sanchez-Maldonado failed to answer repeated phone calls and found his son's body at about 3:32 a.m. in the backyard of their home, he said at the time through an interpreter.
"He wanted to die that day, too," said Cruz, describing Sanchez's emotions after finding his dead son. "He told me, 'They killed my son.' "
Seeing the defendant in court, handcuffed and wearing a white jumpsuit, Cruz said all he could think of was his nephew, whose mother still lives in El Salvador.
"I know we can't bring him back, but we're really happy to see [the defendant in custody]," Cruz said. "I hope they give him his whole life in jail."
Defense attorney Glenn A. Obedin of Central Islip said he spoke with his client briefly before the arraignment and he appeared to be “a frightened, confused boy.” Obedin said he couldn't comment on the allegations until he speaks to Sanchez-Hernandez further.
The defendant has a prior criminal record, authorities said. He was arrested on Oct. 27, 2018, in Virginia for allegedly trying to kill a member of the rival 18th Street gang, Suffolk prosecutors said. He and other MS-13 gang members drove from Long Island to Virginia to kill the rival and he was charged there with attempted murder, conspiracy and firearm possession, prosecutors said.
Sanchez-Hernandez bailed out on the Virginia charges and returned to Long Island, prosecutors said.
"That wouldn't happen in Suffolk County," Sini said.
After Sanchez-Hernandez's release in Virginia, authorities in Suffolk County "kept a close eye on him," according to Sini, while police built their case.