A federal jury considering the fate of the alleged getaway driver in a 2017 gang killing at a Central Islip deli on Monday watched surveillance video depicting the brazen daytime slaying of the suspected rival gang member by a masked MS-13 gang member.
Some jurors flinched as the first of five shots was fired at point-blank range in the back of the head of victim Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla — a suspected member of the 18th Street gang, a fierce MS-13 rival — as he stood near the counter of the deli. One juror clasped her hand over her mouth in apparent horror.
Defendant Jose Suarez, 24, of Central Islip, who prosecutors labeled an MS-13 associate, is standing trial on charges that he drove the shooter and others to and from the El Campesino Deli on the morning of Jan. 30, 2017, when Alvarado-Bonilla was killed. A female clerk was also shot, but survived. Suarez is also charged with the Dec. 18, 2016, beating of two men in a Brentwood restaurant who had allegedly disrespected MS-13 in a dispute over a woman.
Suffolk Police homicide Det. Christopher Calvacca, testifying under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Keilty at the trial Monday, gave a running narrative of video that showed events leading up to the killing, as well as the deli surveillance video of the shooting, and other footage that detectives retrieved from the exterior of two nearby homes and a Shell gas station.
Calvacca identified Kevin Cifuentes, another alleged MS-13 gang member, who prosecutors have said was tasked by gang leadership with witnessing the killing of Alvardo-Bonillo. Cifuentes is seen on video being picked up in a dark sedan at the nearby Shell station and being dropped off before the shooting near the deli.
The shooter, dressed in all black and with a mask covering his face, shared a vehicle with Cifuentes, who gets out first, the video showed. The shooter then takes the same path into the deli from the vehicle, which prosecutors say was driven by Suarez.
Dressed in a hoodie and jeans, Cifuentes appears on the video to be casually talking on his cellphone inside the deli, Calvacca said, and is just steps away as the masked gunman fires the fatal shots at 10:30 a.m. Cifuentes, who became a cooperating witness after his arrest, also tipped off investigators that they could get video from the gas station, Calvacca said.
Cifuentes, who prosecutors have said admitted to his role almost immediately after the crime and began helping detectives, is expected to testify as early as Tuesday.
Mario Aguilar-Lopez, the shooter in the deli killing, pleaded guilty last year and is awaiting sentencing.
Suarez’s attorney, Raymond L. Colon, who has said his client was not an associate of MS-13, but simply knew some of the members from the neighborhood, said Monday after testimony ended for the day that the video didn’t hurt his client.
“The video does not depict anything that would be inculpatory to Mr. Suarez,” said Colon. “Everything points to Mr. Cifuentes as one of the principal antagonists.”
Calvacca also pointed out Alexi Saenz, an alleged leader of Brentwood’s MS-13 Sailors clique who was nicknamed “Blasty,” was buying a drink in the deli in hours before the killing. Saenz, according to prosecutors, spotted Alvarado-Bonillo, who was wearing a football jersey with the number 18 on it — apparently signifying the 18th Street gang — and ordered the hit.
Saenz is also set to stand trial in the September 2016 MS-13 killings of Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, of Brentwood.