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Juan Garcia, MS-13 gang member, pleads guilty to murder of Vanessa Argueta

Juan Garcia, 21, a member of the Long

Juan Garcia, 21, a member of the Long Island MS-13 street gang, pleaded guilty to the February 2010 murder of his former girlfriend, Vanessa Argueta, of Hempstead. Garcia also had been charged in the slaying of Argueta's 2-year-old son, Diego Torres, but that charge was dropped in a plea bargain. Credit: FBI

A Long Island member of the MS-13 street gang who had been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list pleaded guilty Wednesday to murder for the execution-style slaying of his 19-year-old former girlfriend, saying she "disrespected" him and the gang.

Juan Garcia, 21, who has lived in Baldwin, Central Islip and Inwood, admitted to his role in the February 2010 slaying of Vanessa Argueta in a wooded area of Central Islip.

Under the plea bargain reached with prosecutors, charges related to the killing of Argueta's 2-year-old son, Diego Torres, were dropped. But also under the terms of the plea, the judge, in sentencing Garcia, would consider his role in setting up Diego's killing.

Garcia wept during the hearing in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, he said he's belonged to La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, since about 2008.

"In February 2010, I agreed with other MS-13 members to kill Vanessa Argueta because she had disrespected me and the MS-13 by sending rival gang members to attack me," he said. "I agreed to kill her to maintain and increase my position in the MS-13."

Argueta, thinking that she, Garcia and two other MS-13 members were going to a restaurant that day, took her son along because she couldn't get a baby-sitter, officials have said.

When they entered the woods, Garcia said, Rene Mejia of Brentwood and Patchogue shot Argueta in the head. Garcia said he then shot Argueta in the chest. A third gang member, Adalberto Guzman, 22, of Central Islip, then fatally shot Diego, reasoning that the boy might seek revenge one day, according to officials.

Guzman was sentenced to life in prison Oct. 2 for his role in the killings. Mejia has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Garcia killed Argueta "for the purpose of maintaining and increasing [his] position in the MS-13, an enterprise engaged in racketeering activity," according to the indictment.

Garcia faces up to life in prison for murder and racketeering when he is sentenced by Judge Joseph Bianco. As part of the plea bargain, he cannot appeal if he gets 45 years or less, but Bianco can take the boy's slaying into account.

His tearful mother, Claudia Garcia of El Salvador, declined to comment afterward.

Defense attorney Barry Rhodes of Manhattan said his client "is extremely remorseful," noting that Garcia was 17 when this happened and had "no idea" the boy would also be killed. Eastern District federal prosecutors John Durham and Raymond Tierney declined to comment.

"He has to live with himself for both murders," Jose Argueta, the victim's father and the boy's grandfather, said of Garcia after the hearing.

Diego's father, Armando Torres, 27, of Jamaica, Queens, said Garcia "deserves to have what's coming to him."

Garcia, a fugitive for four years in Central America, surrendered in Nicaragua in March to members of the FBI's Long Island Gang Task Force and local police a day after he'd been placed on the Most Wanted list with a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to his capture.

Garcia's family in his native El Salvador talked him into surrendering to prevent him from either being killed by MS-13 members upset that the toddler's killing was not sanctioned, or killed or captured by bounty hunters, sources said.

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