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Alleged MS-13 gang member charged in two killings arraigned on two more murder charges

Raul Ponce, an alleged MS-13 member already indicted

Raul Ponce, an alleged MS-13 member already indicted in connection with two slayings, now faces charges in two more homicide cases, authorities said Thursday. Credit: Newsday

An alleged MS-13 member who authorities said is known on the streets as "Shadow" is facing murder charges in four Nassau slayings after his arraignment Thursday in connection with what prosecutors said were two more gang-related killings.

An attorney for Raul Ponce, 23, of Hempstead, put in a not-guilty plea for his client on two second-degree murder charges at his arraignment in Hempstead District Court.

Defense attorney Daniel Russo told Judge Christopher Coschignano that Ponce had been aware he would be charged with murder in the two other cases — which stretch back to 2016 and 2017.

The judge granted prosecutor Jared Rosenblatt's request to continue Ponce's remand in jail and Russo declined to comment after court.

But Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, commander of the Nassau County Police Department's homicide squad, provided insight at a news conference about what prompted authorities to arrest Ponce on two new murder charges several years after the killings.

"There's certain things that are going on within the court system, with cooperation, or other people — witnesses — that are coming forward at this time. But he was always on the radar," Fitzpatrick said of Ponce. "It was just a matter of at what point in the court process and investigation was it the right timing to charge him with these two particular acts."

The El Salvador native has been incarcerated on Long Island since 2018, police said previously.

One of the new charges against him is connected to the June 2016 slaying of Osmin Campos-Sandoval, 19, of Hempstead.

Law enforcement officials have said MS-13 lured Campos-Sandoval into the woods in Uniondale because they believed he was a rival gang member. The suspects smoked marijuana with him to put him at ease, then "butchered him, hit him and buried him," police said previously.

On Thursday, a felony complaint alleged Ponce provided a weapon that first was used to shoot Campos-Sandoval before co-conspirators stabbed the victim — an act authorities said "ultimately caused his death."

Law enforcement officials found Campos-Sandoval's remains in October 2020 in a shallow grave. Among those also charged in the victim's slaying is an ex-girlfriend who dated him in their native El Salvador.

Ponce also faces a new murder charge in the March 20, 2017, slaying of Nelson Rodriguez, 37, in Hempstead.

Authorities have said six MS-13 members were on the hunt for a rival gang member to kill, circling the Front Street area in a white Honda Accord before the deadly shooting of the Hempstead auto body shop worker.

Rodriguez was walking home from work when MS-13 spontaneously targeted him, according to proceedings in the trial of two other alleged members of the gang. They now are serving 50 years to life in prison for Rodriguez's murder.

A former gang cohort of theirs testified at their 2019 trial as a cooperating prosecution witness, then naming Ponce as one of two alleged gang higher-ups who were among those in the Honda — something the witness said he didn't do before the trial out of fear.

Ponce also previously was indicted and pleaded not guilty in the Aug. 23, 2016, slaying of Bryan Steven Cho Lemus.

Authorities have alleged MS-13 members lured the victim to the Massapequa Preserve before they hacked the 18-year-old Uniondale man to death because of a petty dispute and buried him in a shallow grave.

Law enforcement officials have said Lemus accepted an invite to smoke marijuana in the woods, not knowing the gang saw him as an enemy before MS-13 unleashed the deadly attack.

After repeated searches, homicide detectives found Lemus' remains nearly three years later after finding a depression caused by his body's decomposition. The discovery followed their recovery nearby of the remains of alleged MS-13 slaying victim Julio Cesar Gonzales-Espantzay, a 19-year-old from Valley Stream.

In August, a Nassau judge sentenced Ponce's younger brother, Samuel Ponce, then 20, to 9 years to life in prison for Lemus' slaying.

A grand jury also previously indicted Raul Ponce in the Jan. 28, 2017 slaying of Gonzales-Espantzay — a case in which he also pleaded not guilty.

Gang members lured Gonzales-Espantzay to his death with the promise of marijuana and sexual favors, using his killing as a way to try to improve their stature in MS-13, according to authorities. They said the victim was struck with a machete and shot.

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