MS-13 associate Leniz 'La Diablita' Escobar found guilty in deaths of 4 men in Central Islip

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Monday, April 11, 2022
MS-13 associate dubbed 'La Diablita' found guilty in deaths of 4 men
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A Long Island woman has been found guilty of luring four young men to their deaths by more than 12 members of the MS-13 street gang.

CENTRAL ISLIP, New York (WABC) -- A Long Island woman was convicted Monday of luring four young men to their deaths by more than 12 members of the MS-13 street gang.

Leniz Escobar, known as "La Diablita," or "the Little Devil," was found guilty on all counts Monday morning in Central Islip.

The jury, composed of seven men and five women, deliberated for less than four hours.

They began deliberations last Thursday and informed the judge at the end of the day that they believed they had a verdict but wanted the weekend to sleep on it. No deliberations were held Friday.

The jury convened Monday at 9:31 a.m., and by 9:47 a.m., they sent a note to the judge saying they had a verdict.

"I would say that we're disappointed," Jessie Siegel, Escobar's attorney, said. "But we do appreciate the time and effort put in by the jury."

Escobar showed no emotion as the jury read the verdict. She looked down at the table and at the judge.

"She took the verdict as well as a person could I think, you know, she understands the serious consequences for her," Siegel said.

Members of Escobar's family were in court Monday and thanked the jury and Escobar's lawyers for their hard work.

Members of the victims' families were not in court.

During the trial, prosecutors said Escobar helped orchestrate the 2017 massacre as a teenage associate of the gang before falsely claiming to be a victim in the ambush.

Escobar was convicted of racketeering, including predicate acts of murder, conspiracy to murder rival gang members, and obstruction of justice; and murder in aid-of racketeering in the four deaths that prosecutors described as "a horrific frenzy of violence" involving machetes, knives and tree limbs in a Central Islip park.

"With today's verdict, Escobar has been held responsible for the crucial role that she willingly played in orchestrating one of the most vicious and senseless mass murders in the district in memory," United States Attorney Breon Peace said. "The defendant showed utter disregard for human life by leading the victims into a killing field, to their slaughter, to enhance her stature with her fellow cold-blooded murderers within the MS-13 gang. It is my hope that Escobar's conviction will bring some measure of closure to the relatives of the victims and serve as a warning to other gang members that this Office, together with our law enforcement partners, will not rest until everyone responsible for these murders is held accountable and the MS-13 no longer poses a danger to our district."

MS-13 had been seeking to settle a score, prosecutors said, and believed the young victims, Justin Llivicura, Michael Lopez, Jorge Tigre, and Jefferson Villalobos to be members of the rival 18th Street Gang. The victims' families denied that any of the slain men were in a gang.

Prosecutors said 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 last month 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 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 getaway.

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

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.

Siegel said they're considering filing an appeal, while also focusing on preparing for sentencing and trying to convince the judge not to sentence Escobar to life in prison. Siegel said Escobar has had a tough life and should not be defined by one bad thing she did.

The verdict followed a four-week trial before United States Circuit Judge Joseph F. Bianco. When sentenced on September 14, Escobar faces up to life in prison.

ALSO READ | 17-year-old in custody in shooting outside Bronx school that killed teen, wounded 2 others

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