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Cops: Gang behind Hempstead machete killing of teen

Fifteen-year-old Yan Cifuentes, left, and 17-year-old Pedro Santos,

Fifteen-year-old Yan Cifuentes, left, and 17-year-old Pedro Santos, both of Hempstead, have been charged in the murder of an 18-year-old man. (Nov. 24, 2010) Photo Credit: Jim Staubitser, left; Howard Schnapp, right

Latino gang members were behind a machete attack on a Hempstead street earlier this month that left a teen mortally wounded, Nassau officials said Wednesday.

Homicide detectives believe an argument erupted Nov. 14 between suspects Pedro Santos, 17, and Yan Cifuentes, 15, and the victim, Yunior Orlando Maldonado, 18, of Westbury.

Maldonado was repeatedly hacked with a machete and a knife. He died shortly after arriving at a hospital.

Santos and Cifuentes, both of Hempstead, were arrested Tuesday and charged with second-degree murder. Both suspects are members of 18th Street, a violent street gang with deep roots on Long Island, officials said.

At their arraignments in First District Court in Hempstead Wednesday, a Nassau prosecutor called the killing "gang motivated" and said there was at least one eyewitness.

Det. Lt. John Azzata of the Nassau police's Homicide Squad said Maldonado was not believed to be affiliated with any gang. He declined to say what led police to the pair or give a motive for the killing.

After his arrest, Cifuentes was handcuffed to a chair in homicide squad offices in Mineola when, police said, he used a fingernail to scratch "XVIII" into the chair arm - the "tag" for the 18th Street gang.

A Legal Aid attorney representing the teens entered pleas of not guilty. Cifuentes has been charged as an adult.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Lampert said Maldonado was stabbed nine times, calling the wounds "extremely deep" and indicative of "a desire to kill."

"The attack was gang-related with a gang motive," he said. Both defendants were held without bail and are scheduled to return to court Monday.

Cifuentes' mother she said she did not speak English and did not know what he was charged with. "They arrested him last night, that's all I know," said the mother, who declined to give her name. The family is from Guatemala, according to a family friend who acted as her interpreter.

Through a translator, Santos' weeping mother declined to speak to a reporter. She arrived at the courthouse hours after her son's arraignment and indicated she was unaware of the extent of the charges.

"I don't know what gang he was in," said a cousin who arrived with Santos' mother.

With Matthew Chayes

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