Feds: Teenage MS-13 associate lured young men to massacre
CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. - On social media, Leniz Escobar went by the name "Diablita," which is Spanish for "little devil" — and that's how prosecutors allege Escobar acted when she lured a group of young men to a wooded area in Central Islip back in 2017. Escobar told them they'd meet to smoke marijuana, the feds said.
But soon after the young men arrived, they were beaten and hacked to death with machetes, knives, and tree limbs by more than a dozen members of the MS-13 gang, according to prosecutors.
Alexander Ruiz — the lone survivor of the attack — continued to be cross-examined inside the federal court in Central Islip. Ruiz, who managed to escape by running for his life, told the jury that members of MS-13 covered their faces with sweatshirts and ordered them to get down on the ground, threatening to kill anyone who moved.
Prosecutors said the motive for the attack was payback because the victims had disrespected the vicious gang on social media and allegedly were members of the rival 18th Street gang.
Escobar, an alleged associate of MS-13, was 17 at the time but is being tried as an adult. She pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and racketeering.
Text messages entered as evidence by the defense attempted to question Ruiz's credibility.
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But prosecutors say Escobar lied and portrayed herself as a victim when she actually bragged to her boyfriend, a high-ranking member of the gang, about her important role in the murders. She also allegedly discarded bloody clothes she wore the night of the murders and tossed her cellphone from a moving car so law enforcement couldn't recover its contents.
A detective with the Suffolk County Homicide Squad and a medical examiner also took the stand on Tuesday as well as Escobar's boyfriend at the time who said she helped bring the young men to the park.
Family members of the victims were in court but didn't comment.
Escobar's attorneys said some others allegedly involved in the killings cut deals with prosecutors to testify in exchange for more lenient sentences. On Monday, one of her attorneys defended his client.
"Miss Escobar maintains her innocence," attorney Jesse Siegel said.
The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.
Escobar faces up to life in prison if found guilty on the top count.