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Summations in alleged gang slay trial

Leaders of the MS-13 gang Heriberto Martinez, left,

Leaders of the MS-13 gang Heriberto Martinez, left, and Carlos Ortega, right, are scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Central Islip. Photo Credit: Handout

While relatives of three of the victims watched Monday, a federal prosecutor and two defense attorneys clashed over whether two people should be convicted in connection with a total of five killings in 2010 linked to the MS-13 street gang.

The attorneys gave summations to the jury in the case against Heriberto Martinez, 25, of Far Rockaway and Carlos Ortega, 23, of Brentwood after five weeks of testimony in federal court in Central Islip.

Martinez is accused in the death of Vanessa Argueta, 19, and as an accessory after the fact in the death of her 2-year-old son Diego Torres.

Ortega is accused in the death of David Sandler, 20, of Brentwood, who was mistaken for a member of the rival Latin Kings gang.

As Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Capwell tried to tie Ortega to Sandler's killing, tears welled up in the eyes of Sandler's mother, Claribel Fiallo, who shook slightly.

Ortega showed no emotion. Fiallo later declined to comment.

After court, Oscar Argueta, the grandfather of the Diego and father of Vanessa Argueta, said that the government is "doing a good job to convict the killers of my daughter and grandson. They should be kept in jail. God did not give any person . . . [the right] to kill. My daughter and grandson will be in my heart forever."

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco has barred the anonymous jurors from knowing the age of Torres and that he's Argueta son on the grounds that it would be too prejudicial.

Martinez is also accused in the killing of Nestor Moreno, 22, a security guard at a Hempstead bar. Both Martinez and Ortega are accused in the killing of Mario Quijada, 25, who was stabbed to death on a Far Rockaway beach.

In her summation, Capwell said the evidence against Martinez and Ortega was overwhelming and included confessions, testimony of cooperators who were fellow MS-13 members, cellphone records, ballistic evidence and Quijada's blood on Martinez's clothing.

But one of Martinez's attorneys, Elizabeth Macedonio, of Bayside, and one of Ortega's attorneys, Marianne Rantala, of Commack, said the main evidence against her client came from MS-13 cooperators who are testifying falsely in exchange for leniency. They claimed the confessions were dubious because they had not been recorded, and other evidence was not conclusive.

The defense attorneys also noted that under federal racketeering laws, convictions for the killings required jurors find their clients acted to maintain or improve their positions in MS-13.

Rantala said the only thing her client "might be guilty of was hanging around with MS-13 members but that is not a crime."

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