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Prosecutors: Gang members killed woman, son

Photo of Vanessa Argueta with her son Diego.

Photo of Vanessa Argueta with her son Diego. Credit: Handout

Federal prosecutors say a Hempstead woman and her toddler were slain in Central Islip woods earlier this year by MS-13 gang members in retaliation for the woman asking rival gang members to threaten her estranged boyfriend, court papers say.

Vanessa Argueta, 19, had given her boyfriend's address to members of the 18th Street gang, a rival of the MS-13 gang, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco wrote in a court order ruling that the woman's accused killer be tried as an adult.

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Court papers only identify the defendant - who is now at the Nassau County jail - as "Juvenile Male," though the judge paints a portrait of a profoundly troubled young man with a lengthy rap sheet.

Bianco's decision says the unnamed defendant has been charged with two counts of murder "in aid of racketeering." The defendant was four months shy of his 18th birthday at the time. Bianco called the Feb. 4 slayings of Argueta and son Diego Torres a "heinous, execution-style murder of a 19-year-old woman and her 2-year-old son who had been lured to the woods of Central Islip."

The court papers also state: "his brutal and callous double-homicide of a woman and her child is alleged to have been committed as part of the defendant's participation in the racketeering activity of the violent MS-13 street gang."

Bianco's order, dated Dec. 14, came about nine months after U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to the FBI asking the agency to investigate "the magnitude of the violence" in Brentwood and Central Islip. The murder of Argueta and her son was among at least 11 killings in the two communities in the span of a year, prompting many civic activists to call for federal help in fighting crimes.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment beyond saying that the slayings are under investigation.

In the court papers, the victims are listed in court papers by their initials, V.A. and D.T., though Suffolk homicide detectives identified them at the time of the slaying.

Prosecutors say Argueta "had ties to the 18th Street Street gang and the Latin Kings," the judge said in the decision.

After a dispute with a MS-13 street gang member with whom she was romantically involved, prosecutors say Argueta gave his address to 18th Street gang members, who twice went to his house to threaten him, papers state.

Prosecutors said when the boyfriend told the defendant and another MS-13 member that the 18th Street gang had threatened him, they decided to retaliate, according to the court papers.

The judge, quoting a psychologist, says in his decision that the juvenile accused of the slaying appears to have a "quick temper" and "an odd and disturbing preoccupation with blood."

The judge's order says that two other co-conspirators also participated in the slaying, and that the two fled to El Salvador soon after the killings.

Federal prosecutor Richard Donoghue declined to comment on the case. A Suffolk police spokesman said only that the case is under investigation.

With Yamiche Alcindor

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