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Alleged MS-13 gang members charged with 7th killing

Alexi Saenz, left, the accused head of the

Alexi Saenz, left, the accused head of the Brentwood Sailors clique, and his brother, Jairo Saenz, who was allegedly No. 2 in the clique, each pleaded not guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to murder and the murder of 29-year-old Michael Johnson of Central Islip. Credit: Newsday File

The alleged leaders of the Brentwood clique of the MS-13 street gang — already charged with the murders of two Brentwood High School teenage girls and four other killings — have been charged in federal court with a seventh murder.

Alexi Saenz, the head of the Brentwood Sailors clique, and his brother, Jairo Saenz, who was No. 2 in the clique, each pleaded not guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to murder and the murder of 29-year-old Michael Johnson of Central Islip.

Though they were just charged with Johnson's killing, it was the first to be committed by the brothers and other gang members in a killing spree between 2016 and the beginning of 2017, according to officials and court papers.

A third member of MS-13 also pleaded not guilty Friday in federal court in Central Islip in connection with the Johnson killing.

Johnson’s father, George Johnson, who was in court for the Saenz arraignments, said his son's killing nearly destroyed his family. The grieving father said he could not get the slaying out of his mind for years.

“He was a good kid, who was definitely not a gang member, “Johnson said of his son. “I won’t be satisfied until I know someone will pay for what they did.”

Johnson may have been wearing a clothing item that had the red colors of the Bloods street gang, and MS-13 members may have mistaken him for a member of the rival gang, according to sources familiar with the case.

Johnson said his son, who lived with him, had some psychological issues, but was active and played both basketball and football. His son was supposed to be returning from a part-time night job in a neighborhood gas station on Jan. 28, 2016, but he never showed up, Johnson said.

Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Scotti gave few details of the killing, either in court or in court papers, or what led authorities to charge the alleged killers.

At the beginning of February 2016, police said that Michael Johnson’s body was found with severe head wounds in a wooded area near a Brentwood housing complex.

“It’s a massive head injury,” said a Suffolk police official at the time. “We can’t say for sure how long he’s been dead, but we don’t think it was an excessive amount of time.”

No weapons were recovered at the scene, and police said at the time they did not know how the body got to the woods, or a possible motive for the killing.

The Saenz brothers have already been charged in the slayings of the two Brentwood High School teenage girls — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — in September 2016.

The other killings the brothers were previously charged with were those of three people that MS-13 believed to be members of the rival 18th Street gang: Oscar Acosta in April 2016; Javier Castillo in October 2016; and Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla in January 2017 in a Central Islip deli, according to officials.

The brothers were also charged with the murder in October 2016 of Dewann Stacks who MS-13 believed to be a member of an unnamed rival gang. Alexi Saenz used the street name “Blasty,” and his brother Jairo used the street name “Funny,” officials said.

The Saenz brothers are eligible to face the death penalty if the government decides to seek it and they are convicted of the murders.

In court, Scotti also said that the Eastern District expects to forward to the Justice Department in February prosecutors’ recommendations as to whether or not to seek the death penalty against the Saenz brothers, and several other members of the gang,  along with arguments against seeking the penalty by defense attorneys.

The death penalty arguments come at time when the federal government has ended a moratorium on federal executions for the first time after more than 15 years.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in July that the federal Bureau of Prisons will start executing convicted killers in December.

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our court system,” Barr said.

Scotti  declined to comment afterward, as did one of Alexi Saenz’s attorneys, David Ruhnke, and  Kelley Sharkey, one of Jairo Saenz’s attorneys.

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