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Testimony: Accused gang leader involved in killings

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. Credit: Handout

A Suffolk County homicide detective and an FBI agent testified Thursday that an accused MS-13 gang leader admitted to them in separate statements that he was either involved in or was willing to finger fellow members in the killings of a 19-year-old Hempstead mother and her 2-year-old son.

Heriberto Martinez, 25, of Far Rockaway, is accused of approving the killing in February 2010 of the mother, Vanessa Argueta, and of being an accessory after the fact in the killing of her young son, Diego Torres.Argueta was killed because she asked a rival gang to harm her former boyfriend, according testimony and court papers.

But a defense attorney for Martinez attempted to show in her cross-examinations of the investigators that her client was either too sleep deprived during the interrogation or that he was mislead into signing the admissions.

Martinez, the head of a Brentwood clique of the street gang, and Carlos Ortega, 23, of Brentwood, are on trial in federal district court in Central Islip in connection with five killings.

In the case of the murders of the mother and her toddler son, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco has ruled that testimony about the age of the toddler and other details of the murders are so prejudicial to the defendants that he has barred mention of the child's age or the fact that Argueta was his mother.

Among the details that also have been barred are statements that the three MS-13 members who actually shot the mother and child decided to kill the toddler because they feared he might grow up and seek revenge for his mother's death, according to several sources familiar with the case.

Suffolk County detective Ralph Rivera testified that after Martinez was arrested a month after the Argueta-Torres killings by New York City police in another case, he gave him the names of the three alleged members of MS-13 who, he said, actually shot to death Argueta and Torres.

Rivera said that Martinez identified the three as a former boyfriend of Argueta's, Juan Garcia, and two other members of MS-13, under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Tierney.

FBI agent Edward Heslin testified that later, when Martinez was transferred to federal custody, the MS-13 leader gave a similar account of the circumstances of the mother and son's death.

A Martinez defense attorney, Elizabeth Macedonio, however, suggested in her cross-examination that her client was not competent to make any admissions to Suffolk detectives because he had been without sleep for almost two days before Rivera questioned him.

Macedonio also said the FBI agent's account was not based on interview notes but on a statement he typed after talking with Martinez.

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