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Teen girl's appeal to U.S. Supreme Court seeks trial as juvenile not as adult

A makeshift memorial behind a park on Clayton

A makeshift memorial behind a park on Clayton Street in Central Islip on April 14, 2017, where four young men were found dead. Credit: James Carbone

A teenage girl officials say is an associate of the MS-13 gang — who was allegedly a key figure in luring four young men to their death in a Central Islip park in 2017 — has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower-court ruling allowing her to be prosecuted as an adult rather than as a juvenile.

The defendant has been identified in federal court papers only by her gang nickname of “Diablita” — for little devil — or JF for Juvenile Female. 

Juveniles can be incarcerated only until age 21 in the federal system; juveniles converted legally to adult status face up to life, but not the death penalty.

The teen’s attorney, Jesse Siegel of Manhattan, seeks to have the Supreme Court overrule a decision by then U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco in Central Islip that supposedly gave “too much weight to the seriousness of [the yet unproven] charged offenses,” as opposed to mitigating circumstances such as the teen’s potential for rehabilitation and her lack of a criminal record.

The June 2018 ruling by Bianco supported the view of federal prosecutors that the teenager deserved to be treated as an adult because of her prominent role in the four killings. Prosecutors had argued that the teen “instigated the murders, participated in planning them, and assisted MS-13 in carrying them out.” She was 17 at the time of the murders, short of the 18-year-old threshold for regular adult status.

In his decision Bianco noted that the teen, and another teenage girl, had shown MS-13 members social media pictures of some of the victims flashing MS-13 gang signs — considered a serious sign of disrespect for non-gang members. In addition, the teen helped lure the victims to the park supposedly to smoke marijuana, where, instead, Bianco said, “they were murdered with machetes, knives and tree limbs.”

Bianco said given the teen’s alleged involvement, her obstruction of justice by trying to destroy evidence, and her lack of remorse after the crime, she “is unlikely to be rehabilitated within [the five years permitted in] the juvenile justice system.”

Some of the murder victims also were believed to be members of the rival 18th Street gang by MS-13, Bianco said. Family members of the victims have denied they were gang members.

Bianco’s decision to transfer the girl was upheld in December by a three-judge appeals court panel in Manhattan, saying that the judge had properly weighed the reasons for and against changing her status.

Except for acknowledging he had filed the motion with the Supreme Court, defense attorney Siegel declined to comment on the case, as did Eastern District spokesman John Marzulli.

The four victims were: Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue; Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport; Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood; and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida, who was on Long Island visiting his cousin Banegas.

Two teenage male members of MS-13 involved in the park murders, who were converted to adult status by Bianco, have received sentences of 50 and 55 years. Four adult members of MS-13 are awaiting a Justice Department decision if they would face the death penalty if convicted in the four killings.

The viciousness of the murders, which followed the killings of two teenage girls — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — in nearby Brentwood, caused President Donald Trump and then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to promise to crush the gang.

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