A judge Tuesday sentenced an alleged MS-13 member to 15 years in prison for trying to kill a fellow immigrant from El Salvador who prosecutors said became a target after rejecting the gang’s recruitment efforts.
A jury in March found Miguel Urias Argueta, 20, guilty of attempted murder, attempted assault and weapons charges in the April 2017 attack on a 19-year-old in Westbury that prosecutors said involved a knife, a machete and a gun.
It was perhaps by “the grace of God” that the victim wasn’t seriously injured or killed, Nassau prosecutor Brittany Gurrieri said Tuesday in calling for a 15-year sentence for a defendant she said “has never taken any responsibility for his actions.”
She said the attempt on the teenager’s life happened for one reason — “because the victim refused to join MS-13.”
Acting state Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty on Tuesday cited trial testimony from the victim about “constantly being harassed at school” by Urias Argueta and other alleged MS-13 members because he wouldn’t join the gang, before he dropped out of Westbury High School, found a job and then narrowly escaped the gang attack.
“The court finds that you pose a real danger to our community,” Gugerty told Urias Argueta before announcing his sentence.
But defense attorney Christopher Graziano, who asked for a 5-year sentence for his client, said Urias Argueta maintains he didn’t take part in the assault and isn’t a member of MS-13.
The Mineola lawyer added that Urias Argueta will file an appeal that will point out inconsistencies regarding the victim’s account about whether he saw a knife.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Urias Argueta tried to stab the victim with a knife after he and two brothers who were alleged fellow MS-13 gang members approached on bicycles.
They said one brother, Fidel Hernandez, then 23, then swung a machete toward the victim’s abdomen.
The other brother, Jose Hernandez, then 26, fired three gunshots before the victim escaped with just a `scrape across his lower torso and a torn sweatshirt, according to prosecutors.
The older brother pleaded guilty to attempted murder and got a 6-year prison sentence, and the younger brother admitted to a weapons charge and got a 4-year sentence, their attorneys said previously.
Urias Argueta’s conviction came during a second trial that followed a mistrial Gugerty declared in February because of juror misconduct.
The judge granted an unopposed defense motion for the mistrial, saying her ruling was based on “biased comments” by the foreman and “other conversations occurring about the case” among jurors in violation of court rules.
An alternate juror of Hispanic heritage sent the judge a note saying he no longer wanted to serve, reporting a comment by the panel’s foreman that led Gugerty to question all of the jurors.
One other juror told the judge the foreman said “something about deportation,” another said his remark involved “immigration, stuff like that,” and another said the same panelist “definitely was being biased.”
Urias Argueta also pleaded guilty Tuesday to a criminal mischief charge in a separate case before the judge gave him about a year behind bars that he’ll serve at the same time as his other sentence.
In December 2017, a different Nassau judge dismissed a first-degree conspiracy charge against Urias Argueta that had him facing up to life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors had charged that he and other alleged MS-13 members had a goal of inflicting terror and committed violent acts in furtherance of that conspiracy — the existence of the gang.
But that judge found no evidence Urias Argueta and other defendants, aside from their alleged gang membership, agreed to take part in murder and felony assault.