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Prosecutor: 'Disrespect' led to gang killings

An undated photo of Adalberto Guzman, MS-13 gang

An undated photo of Adalberto Guzman, MS-13 gang member involved in the killing of the 19-year-old mother, Vanessa Argueta her 2-year-old son Diego Torres. Credit: Handout

A Central Islip teen who joined the MS-13 street gang when he was just 10 killed a mother and son, ages 19 and 2, because she had shown "disrespect" for a gang member, then boasted he would never be caught, a prosecutor said Wednesday as the man's trial wound down.

Adalberto Guzman, now 19, had bragged that he "oiled" the .22-caliber automatic, meaning he wiped it clear of fingerprints, after the slaying of Vanessa Argueta and her son, Diego Torres, in a wooded area of Central Islip on Feb. 5, 2010, federal prosecutor Raymond Tierney said.

"Once it passes through my hands, it's in the past. I'm in the clear," Tierney quoted Guzman as saying.

Tierney made the remarks during his closing statement in U.S. District Court in Central Islip to a jury that had heard two weeks of testimony about MS-13 gang culture and hierarchy, phone records of people involved in the murder plot, ballistics evidence from the .22-caliber shells at the scene and testimony from three other gang members who are seeking leniency in return for their testimony.

Federal prosecutors had led the jury through the inner workings of MS-13, how it required members to generate income, attend meetings and -- above all -- enforce a sense of loyalty that called for the death penalty for anyone who "disrespected" the gang or its members.

They produced color photos showing the similarity between tattoos on gang members in jail at its base in El Salvador and gang members on Long Island. They also showed how gang graffiti were sprayed to mark MS-13 turf on Long Island, and was sometimes sprayed outside its territory in an attempt to intimidate rival gangs.

Guzman's attorney, Gary Villanueva of Manhattan, argued that the testimony of the three turncoat gang members could not be trusted, and that graffiti that gang members supposedly wrote to mark their territory were "scribbles."

He said there was no evidence from DNA, fibers, hair or blood to link Guzman to the killings, and that admissions his client made to investigators after his arrest had to be understood in the context of gang life.

"If there is one thing [in gang life] it is that nobody says what they mean. Because what you say and don't say in their world can get you killed," he said.

Villanueva also disputed the government's contention that the killings were gang related, and said it started because a former boyfriend of Argueta was jealous. The boyfriend has since fled the country and is being sought by the Long Island Gang Task Force, sources have told Newsday.

Prosecutors said that after watching his mother get shot to death -- once in the head and once in the chest -- the boy clung to the leg of one of the shooters, crying. Guzman and the others then decided to kill the 2-year-old because he might grow up and seek revenge, prosecutors said.

Guzman took a toy ball dropped by the young victim and gave it to a friend's daughter "as a memento," Tierney said.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco was scheduled to give jurors about two hours of legal instructions Thursday morning before they begin deliberations.

Guzman faces up to life in prison, Tierney said after court adjourned. He said there are court cases now in the appeals process dealing with juvenile defendants that would affect what minimum term Guzman would have to serve.

Another MS-13 member, Rene Mejia of Patchogue, has pleaded guilty to the killings and awaits sentencing.


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