Trial begins for woman, an alleged MS-13 associate, charged in deaths of 4 men in Central Islip

CENTRAL ISLIP, New York (WABC) -- The trial got underway Monday for a Long Island woman knowns as "Diablita" who is accused of luring four young men to their slaughter by more than a dozen members of the MS-13 street gang.

Prosecutors say 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 has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges in the four deaths that prosecutors described as "a horrific frenzy of violence" involving machetes, knives and tree limbs in a Central Islip park.

MS-13 had been seeking to settle a score, prosecutors allege, and believed the young victims to be members of the rival 18th Street Gang. The victims' families have denied that any of the slain men were in a gang.

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Prosecutors allege 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.

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 Monday 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 to not move or they would all be killed.

The witness testified that he got up from his knees, jumped on top of a fallen tree and then over a fence to get away.

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 police and moved from Long Island to another state a few days later.

The defense contends that Escobar had no knowledge that the boys would be murdered that night and that she didn't even know the men responsible.

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Prosecutors say boys were killed for disrespecting MS-13.

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 Associated Press contributed to this report)

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