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Federal judge approves lawyer assignment for MS-13 cases

There are so many MS-13 gang members awaiting trial on Long Island that a federal judge has approved their being represented not only by local lawyers, but also by attorneys from as far away as Puerto Rico, Miami and Chicago. That revelation came out Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, at federal court in Central Islip at a status conference in the case of 17 gang members who have been indicted in a total of 12 murders, as well as a number of attempted murders, assaults, arson and other serious felonies. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

There are so many MS-13 gang members awaiting trial on Long Island that a federal judge has approved their being represented not only by local lawyers, but also by attorneys from as far away as Puerto Rico, Miami and Chicago.

That revelation came out Wednesday at federal court in Central Islip at a status conference in the case of 17 gang members who have been indicted in a total of 12 murders, as well as a number of attempted murders, assaults, arson and other serious felonies.

Faced with the high number of cases, Bianco also approved using attorneys who specialize in death-penalty cases for the MS-13 cases, as well as private investigators who are not local to help lawyers prepare their cases.

Among the deaths some of the accused are charged with are the brutal killings in April of four young men who were found in a Central Islip park, and those last September of two Brentwood High School high students, Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15.

The four victims in the Central Islip case were Justin Lliviura 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 visiting his cousin Banegas.

The courtroom was packed with relatives and friends of both victims and defendants.

Nisa Mickens’ father, Robert, said he had come “to see some sort of closure.” Of his daughter’s accused killers, he said: “What they did is not human.”

Relatives of the accused declined to comment.

Criminal defendants can be assigned attorneys and private investigators paid for by the government if they cannot afford them. Defendants facing a potential federal death penalty are represented both by a criminal defense attorney and an attorney specializing in death-penalty defense.

Federal prosecutors have said that in addition to the 17 adult MS-13 members who have been publicly charged, more than half-a-dozen juvenile members or associates of the gang have been indicted in the case. They also require legal representation, though their cases as juveniles are not public.

Federal prosecutors also said Wednesday they were working on memorandums on whether to seek the death penalty against those accused of the murders, as well as handing over discovery material to the defense counsels and their clients.

The 17 MS-13 members publicly identified in the case have all pleaded not guilty and are being held without bail.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco set Dec. 11 for the next status conference in the case, but both federal prosecutors and defense attorneys said that the paperwork on the death penalty would probably not be completed by then.

Bianco also said that he plans to divide the MS-13 defendants into smaller groups, eventually setting up a number of trials. First, Bianco said he plans to have tried defendants who are not charged with murder.

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys who were asked about the proceedings declined to comment.

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