The U.S. Justice Department has decided not to pursue the death penalty for two alleged MS-13 gang members, Alexi Saenz and Jairo Saenz, accused of brutally killing several teenagers in Long Island, New York. The decision was communicated through a letter from Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to U.S. District Judge Gary R. Brown.
The government had initially planned to seek the death penalty for both brothers in 2020, relating to their alleged involvement in the 2016 murders of 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas and 15-year-old Nisa Mickens. These heinous acts garnered national attention and brought MS-13, a transnational criminal gang, into the spotlight in 2017 when then-President Trump visited the affected Long Island suburb and vowed to eradicate the gang.
The Saenz brothers face charges not only in the deaths of Cuevas and Mickens but also in connection to the killings of Michael Johnson, Oscar Acosta, Javier Castillo, Dewann Stacks, and Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla. Alexi Saenz, identified as the leader of MS-13’s Brentwood and Central Islip-based clique, faces additional charges related to an eighth murder victim, Marcus Bohannon. Peace has requested the Justice Department to make a decision on the death penalty for the Bohannon case by November 29.
The victims, Cuevas and Mickens, were friends with a shared passion for basketball, and their tragic deaths were allegedly orchestrated by the Saenz brothers. Cuevas was targeted for calling out the gang both at school and on social media, while Mickens was said to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jacqueline K. Walsh, one of Jairo Saenz’s lawyers, expressed relief at the news, stating, “It is wonderful news, and we are relieved for our clients.” The DOJ’s decision marks a shift in its stance on seeking the death penalty, a practice halted in 2021 after 13 executions were carried out during the final months of the Trump administration in 2020.
The U.S. Justice Department will not seek the death penalty for two alleged MS-13 members, who face criminal charges in the killings of seven victims on Long Island, including the 2016 slayings of two Brentwood teenagers. https://t.co/O6mvYFUmho
— Newsday (@Newsday) November 12, 2023
Notably, Evelyn Rodriguez, Cuevas’ mother, had become an anti-gang activist following her daughter’s death. Tragically, she was later killed in 2018 during a dispute over a memorial honoring her daughter. Annmarie Drago, accused of fatally running over Rodriguez, is currently undergoing a retrial after jurors failed to reach a verdict on the top count of criminally negligent homicide.