MS-13 leader pleads guilty in case involving 8 murders

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The violent history of MS-13

The history of MS-13, from El Salvador to the U.S. 08:38

A leader of an MS-13 gang clique in New York pleaded guilty Wednesday to racketeering and firearms charges in a case involving eight murders, including the 2016 killings of two high school girls who were hacked and beaten to death as they strolled through their leafy, suburban neighborhood on Long Island.

Alexi Saenz entered the plea in federal court in Central Islip and faces 40 to 70 years in prison. Prosecutors previously withdrew their intent to seek the death penalty in his case.

The 29-year-old will be sentenced on Jan. 31 next year. He was originally indicted in 2017 in the Eastern District of New York.

Eight other MS-13 members who were part of two cliques of the gang were charged in 2020 for six murders and other crimes on Long Island.

NY-PANDILLAS Accused MS-13 gang member Alexi Saenz, is escorted by FBI agents in Central Islip, NY, after being taken into custody on March 2, 2017. James Carbone / AP

During the hearing on Wednesday, Saenz spoke sparingly through a Spanish interpreter as the judge asked him a series of yes and no questions about the plea deal and the crimes he was admitting to.

Saenz said in a statement read out by his lawyer that he had ordered or approved the killings of rival gang members and other people who had disrespected or feuded with members of his clique.

Among those were the killings of Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, lifelong friends and classmates at Brentwood High School who were killed with a machete and a baseball bat.

In 2020, former U.S. Attorney General William Barr filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Saenz. Jairo Saenz, the brother of Alexi, also faces charges that are still pending.

MS-13 was formed in the U.S. in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. The gang is "notorious for its use of violence to achieve its objectives," according to the Department of Justice.

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