An alleged MS-13 gang member avoided the possibility of life in prison when he accepted a plea deal moments before his murder trial was scheduled to begin Monday in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead.
Anthony Gutierrez Meza, 25, pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter in the killing of Estiven Abrego Gomez, 18, of Greenlawn, whose mutilated body was discovered next to a concession stand at a Little League baseball complex in the community in 2016.
In exchange for his guilty plea, Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei will sentence Meza, formerly of Valley Stream, to 22 years in prison.
Meza, who was charged in the killing in March 2019, had faced the possibility of spending life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder at trial. A native of El Salvador, Meza faces the possibility of deportation after he serves his sentence, Mazzei informed him.
Court-appointed defense attorney Ian Fitzgerald declined to comment following his client’s brief appearance in court Monday.
During the plea hearing, Meza admitted being at Greenlawn Park on Aug. 20, 2016, with the intent to cause the death of Abrego Gomez, who prosecutors previously said the alleged killers believed was a member of a rival gang.
Abrego Gomez’s body was discovered by a passerby who flagged down a passing motorist, who called police. His hands were nearly severed and a flurry of blade injuries left him barely recognizable, prosecutors said at the time.
Murder charges are still pending against Elmer Gilberto Santos Contreras, who was arrested with Meza in 2019, and Carlos Lopez-Campos, whose arrest came more than a year later, in October 2020. Both defendants are due back in court this week.
Following the arrests of Meza and Contreras, who were living in Virginia when they were charged nearly three years after the killing, prosecutors alleged the men had seen the victim flashing 18th Street Gang signs on social media before they killed him.
Former Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini did not say which of the three men caused the fatal injuries, but he described Contreras at the time as a "dangerous, homicidal sociopath."
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Pamela Bloomfield and Kathleen Kearon of the Major Crimes Bureau.
Meza is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.