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Hempstead man charged in two separate Massapequa Preserve homicides, Nassau police say

On Thursday, Nassau police arrested and charged Raul Ponce, 19, of Hempstead, in connection with two homicides in Massapequa Preserve in 2016 and 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau police arrested and charged an alleged MS-13 gang member from Hempstead on Thursday in connection with two homicides in Massapequa Preserve in 2016 and 2017, officials said.

Raul Ponce, 19, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the 2016 machete killing of a Uniondale man, Bryan Steven Cho Lemus, 18, and in the killing of Julio Cesar Gonzales-Espantzay, 19, of Valley Stream. Authorities have said Gonzales-Espantzay was struck with a machete and shot. 

Both slayings occurred  in the 432-acre preserve, where the remains of the victims were discovered later by authorities. The March 23, 2017, discovery of Gonzales-Espantzay, who  had been killed two months prior, led authorities to information that Lemus was also buried there. But Lemus' remains were not located until last month. 

On Thursday, police did not detail Ponce's alleged involvement in the slayings. But Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, a department spokesman, said Ponce is an MS-13 gang member and is in the United States without legal status.  

Ponce's defense attorney, David Haber of Mineola, entered a not-guilty plea on his client's behalf  at arraignment Thursday morning in First District Court in Hempstead. Judge Maxine Broderick ordered Ponce remanded for trial.     

Ponce has been incarcerated  in the Nassau County jail on a perjury charge since November, LeBrun said. 

Earlier this week, authorities charged Stanley Gerson Juarez, 22, of Hempstead,  with second-degree murder in the killing of Lemus, whom police found May 24 in a shallow grave in the preserve. 

Lemus, who police said associated with the gang, went missing on Aug. 24, 2016 — the day authorities believe he was lured into the preserve and attacked with machetes. Lemus was killed, authorities have said, because he was perceived to be an enemy. Police earlier this week had said they expected to charge other alleged gang members in Lemus' killing. 

Lemus’ remains were discovered by Nassau police after extensive efforts to locate them. Lemus was finally found near where police found the remains of Gonzales-Espantzay in March 2017. 

Ponce is the sixth alleged gang member to be charged in his death. 

Police have said that on Jan. 28, 2017, gang members lured Gonzales-Espantzay into a vehicle with others, with the promise of marijuana and sexual favors, and then killed him. The murder, authorities have said, took place in order for other gang members to move up in stature in the gang. 

Lemus' and Gonzales-Espantzay's killings were among the dozen MS-13 homicides committed in Nassau County in 2016 and 2017. Twenty-five alleged gang members have been arrested and charged in the killings, police have said. 

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