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In unusual move, Eastern District prosecutors ask for death penalty

November 20, 2020 Editorial Staff
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The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York has been authorized by U.S. Attorney General William Barr to seek the death penalty against alleged MS-13 gang member Jairo Saenz, also known as “Funny,” if he is convicted of any of the murders of Michael Johnson, Oscar Acosta, Kayla Cuevas, Nisa Mickens, Javier Castillo, Dewann Stacks and Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla.

In July 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Jairo’s brother, Alexi Saenz, if he is convicted of any of the murders of the same people.

Jairo Saenz was allegedly the No. 2 person in the Brentwood-Central Islip (Long Island) Sailors clique of the gang. The trial is slated to take place in Central Islip, not at the parent courthouse in Brooklyn.

The two are among several defendants named in a superseding indictment, with charges including murder in aid of racketeering and causing death through the use of a firearm.

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office gave several reasons why it is seeking the death penalty:

  • Jairo Saenz intentionally killed Michael Johnson and Oscar Acosta, according to the indictment.
  • The defendant “intentionally inflicted serious body injury that resulted in the death of Michael Johnson and Oscar Acosta,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
  • The defendant “intentionally participated in one or more acts, contemplating that the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used in connection with a person.”
  • The defendant “intentionally and specifically engaged in one or more acts of violence, knowing that the act or acts created a grave risk of death to a person.”

Other facts that went into the decision include “heinous, cruel or depraved manner of committing the offense” and “substantial planning and premeditation.” For example, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “The defendant committed the murder of Kayla Cuevas in an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner in that it involved torture and serious physical abuse to the victim.”

Also presented as part of the decision was Saenz’ alleged leadership role in the MS-13 clique. According to the indictment, he “procured weapons, including firearms, machetes and baseball bats for the MS-13, and organized the distribution of narcotics to raise money for the MS-13.” In addition, he recruited juveniles to carry out murders and other acts of violence, the statement read.

In general, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “The defendant represents a continuing danger to the lives and safety of other persons. The defendant is likely to commit criminal acts of violence in the future.” Even in prison, the statement read, he continued to play an active role in the gang, threatening other MS-13 members to make them plead not guilty and creating sharpened objects known as “shanks.”

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