A Long Island woman has been found guilty of luring four young men to their deaths by more than 12 members of the MS-13 street gang.
The young woman known as “La Diablita,” the Little Devil, was found guilty on all counts Monday morning in Central Islip.
(Video in media player from previous report)
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Prosecutors said Leniz Escobar helped orchestrate the 2017 massacre as a teenage associate of the gang before falsely claiming to be a victim in the ambush.
Escobar was convicted of racketeering, including predicate acts of murder, conspiracy to murder rival gang members, and obstruction of justice; and murder in aid-of racketeering in the four deaths that prosecutors described as “a horrific frenzy of violence” involving machetes, knives and tree limbs in a Central Islip park.
“With today’s verdict, Escobar has been held responsible for the crucial role that she willingly played in orchestrating one of the most vicious and senseless mass murders in the district in memory,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace. “The defendant showed utter disregard for human life by leading the victims into a killing field, to their slaughter, to enhance her stature with her fellow cold-blooded murderers within the MS-13 gang. It is my hope that Escobar’s conviction will bring some measure of closure to the relatives of the victims and serve as a warning to other gang members that this Office, together with our law enforcement partners, will not rest until everyone responsible for these murders is held accountable and the MS-13 no longer poses a danger to our district.”
“As proven at trial, Ms. Escobar played a crucial role in a heinous and senseless crime, the 2017 slayings of four young men believed by MS-13 to be members of a rival gang. Subsequent to the murders she continued to demonstrate her callous disregard for human life when she boasted about her role in the killings to enhance her stature within the gang. While nothing can bring the victims back, it is our hope that today’s verdict can bring their families a measure of comfort, knowing justice has been served,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll.
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“Today’s verdict sends a clear message that those who associate with a gang will be held accountable for their involvement with gang activity,” stated SCPD Commissioner Rodney Harrison. “Escobar showed a complete disregard for human life and put her allegiance to the gang ahead of the rule of law. I applaud all those involved from the Suffolk County Police Department, the FBI and our partners in law enforcement for their hard work and dedication to justice.”
MS-13 had been seeking to settle a score, prosecutors said and believed the young victims, Justin Llivicura, Michael Lopez, Jorge Tigre, and Jefferson Villalobos to be members of the rival 18th Street Gang. The victims’ families denied that any of the slain men were in a gang.
Prosecutors said that Escobar, who was 17 at the time, was seeking to curry favor with MS-13 and alerted its members to the victims’ location in a wooden area in Central Islip. Under MS-13 rules, the killings had been “pre-authorized” by gang leadership, prosecutors said, and contributors to the carnage stood to gain membership or ascend the organization’s ranks.
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Authorities said Escobar later tossed her cellphone from a moving vehicle – as well as a SIM card that had been removed and damaged so badly law enforcement couldn’t recover its contents.
One of the first witnesses, who was 15 at the time, testified last month that Escobar was responsible for picking the spot in the woods and showed the boys how to get there.
He said they were there smoking pot when a group of seven to nine men came through a fence very deep in the woods with machetes and sweatshirts covering their faces.
He said they told the group of five boys to get down on their knees and not move or they would all be killed.
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The witness testified that he got up from his knees, jumped on top of a fallen tree, and then over a fence to getaway.
After he got over the fence, he said there were two men waiting there who chased after him, but he was able to get away.
The boy then went to the police and moved from Long Island to another state a few days later.
During the trial, prosecutors released a phone call that she had with her boyfriend the day after the murders from inside jail, and she mentioned someone who ‘missed the train’. That was most likely the one man who was able to run away and survive this brutal attack.
Amador: Why do you say that you’re not so good.
Escobar: Because the person that missed the train spilled the beans, and I, well…
Amador: What? Uh-huh. What happened?
Escobar: The person that missed the train spilled the beans.
Amador: So…the one that missed the train, and the others didn’t. I already know that.
Escobar: Right, but he spilled the beans with the cops.
In that same call, Escobar told her boyfriend that she and her friend Keyli Gomez who is also accused of luring these men into the woods, she has been cooperating with prosecutors on this trial.
On that recorded line, Escobar tells her boyfriend that she and Gomez had been practicing all morning long, rehearsing their story for police.
Escobar’s attorney says that she made these comments to her boyfriend because she was scared of the MS-13 gang and she wanted to pretend that she was okay with this entire thing.
The defense contended that Escobar had no knowledge that the boys would be murdered that night and that she didn’t even know the men responsible. However, the jury sided with the prosecution in this case.
MS-13, also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, recruits young teenagers from El Salvador and Honduras, though many gang members were born in the U.S.
The gang has been blamed for dozens of killings since January 2016 across a wide swath of Long Island.
The verdict followed a four-week trial before United States Circuit Judge Joseph F. Bianco. When sentenced, Escobar faces up to life in prison.