MS-13 gang-related ties in question after Long Island man's death: Police

NEW CASSEL, Long Island (WABC) -- Police are investigating the death of a man at an abandoned residence on Long Island as a homicide and possibly gang-related.

The body of 36-year-old man Wilmer Maldonado was discovered bludgeoned in the rear of a house Sunday evening on Broadway in New Cassel.

Investigators say the victim and two other men had been attacked by M-13 gang members in Westbury in 2018 -- a trial for that incident was pending.

"We're out there to do what's right to protect our victims," Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. "The system failed."

Ryder is frustrated because of criminal justice reform in Albany, but in this case, his blame is shifting from bail reform to the new rules of discovery. He says Maldonado is now dead because of it.

Police say the victim was also a witness against nine MS-13 gang members, and under the new law, attorneys were required to disclose Maldonado's ID well before the trial began.

"We believe that the information that was released, our victim's information, which should have been protected, was released too early," Ryder said. "We saw the intimidation pattern start."

Maldonado's attorney released a statement on the 2018 incident:

"In October 2018, Wilmer Maldonado intervened when two boys were allegedly threatened by MS-13 members and he was senselessly attacked, struck with a bat in the head and suffered multiple stab wounds. This courageous man was prepared to testify against his alleged assailants at an upcoming trial, but he was brutally beaten to death before he could. The prosecution protected this victim's identity by obtaining a protective order in December of 2018, but his identity was disclosed pursuant to a judge's order in December 2019. This case underscores the importance of safeguarding the identities of witnesses and victims of crime and our hearts are with Mr. Maldonado's family and friends as we grieve his loss. We will bring everyone associated with this horrific murder to justice."

Nassau County police believe gang members in jail contacted people on the outside to commit the crime. Meanwhile, residents are fearful over what occurred at the vacant house.

"I feel really bad," New Cassel resident Cindy Yanez said. "It's insane."

Authorities say, in this case, releasing Maldonado's information just 15 days after his attackers were indicted, it meant he never had a chance.

"The individuals, whoever did this attack, had received, we believe had received that information," Ryder said.

Nassau County officials released a statement on the homicide investigation:

I want to send my deepest condolences to the family of Wilmer Maldonado. This is a tragedy. I am calling on Albany to take corrective action to fix criminal justice reform immediately. These new discovery requirements pose a threat to both the victims and witnesses of crimes. Nassau County has worked hard to build trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve, and this law now undercuts that trust. Our communities will be scared to report crimes or talk to law enforcement. We cannot let another murder happen because a witness may have been disclosed. Change this law now!

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