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Witness in gang trial tells how victims were lured to their deaths

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 key government witness in the trial of an MS-13 gang member accused of killing a 19-year-old mother and her 2-year-old son testified Monday about what the defendant told her about how the victims were lured to their deaths.

Carla Santos, a former associate of the MS-13 street gang, testified in federal court that Adalberto Guzman told her he and two others gang members tricked Vanessa Argueta into going to a wooded spot in Central Islip in February 2010 by telling her "they were going to kill and she would be a witness."

Guzman is on trial in Central Islip for the shooting death of Argueta and her toddler, Diego Torres. Argueta's former boyfriend, Juan Garcia, is being sought by FBI agents.

A third member of MS-13, Rene Mejia, has pleaded guilty to the killings and is awaiting sentencing.

Garcia was one of three MS-13 members in the car on the trip to the woods, but he was a killer -- not, as Argueta thought, a soon-to-be victim, Santos said she was told by Guzman.

Santos is in the federal witness protection program, and there were a number of U.S. Marshals in the courtroom providing security for her as she testified, often weeping and rocking back and forth in her chair.

Argueta wanted vengeance on Garcia because she had found out he had a new girlfriend, Santos said she was told, under questioning by Eastern District federal prosecutor John Durham.

But MS-13 members wanted to kill Argueta instead because she had members of a rival gang try to harm Garcia, Santos said.

Asked about the toddler, Santos said Guzman told her that [Garcia] "tried to leave Diego behind, [but] Diego started crying."

As they walked away from the car into the woods, Garcia "shot Vanessa . . . and the baby started screaming," Santos said she was told.

Diego was shot once, but he "got up and started running around and crying for Garcia," Santos said.

Guzman "said he shot the baby once and [Meija] shot the baby," Santos said.

When she asked Guzman, why "they killed the baby . . . why didn't they just leave the baby running around and somebody would have found him?"

Guzman had replied, Diego "was going to be another [enemy] who would grow up to hate MS-13," Santos said.

" 'Something had to be done,' " Guzman told her, Santos said.

Santos said she was ordered by the leader of an MS-13 chapter to help Guzman, Mejia and Garcia escape.

That leader, Heriberto Martinez, has already been convicted in connection with the killings of Argueta and Torres.

Santos said Guzman was telling her about the killings while the two were playing catch with a toy ball at a McDonald's in the Bronx with her then-4-year-old daughter, Krissia.

Guzman, Garcia and Mejia were waiting for a van that would eventually take them to Texas, where they would cross the Rio Grande into Mexico, she said,

Guzman gave the ball to her daughter, Santos said. She later found -- to her disgust -- that it was Diego Torres' ball that Guzman had kept, Santos said.

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