MS-13 leader pleads guilty to 8 murders, including deaths of 2 girls on Long Island
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MS-13 leader pleads guilty to 8 murders, including deaths of 2 girls on Long Island

CENTRAL ISLIP, NEW YORK (AP) — The leader of New York City’s MS-13 gang pleaded guilty Wednesday to extortion and firearms charges in a case that involves eight murders, including the 2016 slayings of two high school girls who were attacked and beaten to death as they walked through their leafy, suburban Long Island neighborhood.

Alexi Saenz entered the plea Wednesday in federal court in Central Islip. Prosecutors earlier dropped their bid to seek the death penalty in his case.

Among the killings he is accused of were those of Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, longtime friends and classmates at Brentwood High School, who were murdered with a machete and a baseball bat.

The deaths of the high school students brought national attention to MS-13 gang violence under President Donald Trump.

The Republican has called for the death penalty for Saenz and others arrested in the killings and has blamed the country’s lax immigration policies for violence and gang growth during several visits to Long Island. Cuevas’ mother, Evelyn Rodriguez, was a guest on Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018.

The girls’ deaths have raised questions about whether police were aggressive enough to confront the serious gang threat burgeoning at area high schools.

For months in 2016, Latino children and young men disappeared in Brentwood, a working-class community 40 miles (64.37 km) east of New York City. After Cuevas and Mickens were killed, police discovered the bodies of three other Brentwood youths, ages 15, 18 and 19, who had disappeared several months earlier.

Police and federal agents have arrested dozens of suspected members of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, an international criminal organization believed to have been founded as a street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by people fleeing civil war in El Salvador.

Cuevas’ mother, Rodriguez, became an anti-gang activist after her daughter’s death but was killed in 2018. Rodriguez was fatally struck by a car during a dispute over a memorial commemorating the second anniversary of her daughter’s death. The driver, Annmarie Drago, pleaded guilty in 2024 to manslaughter.

Saenz’s attorneys did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Saenz, also known as “Blasty” and “Big Homie,” was a leader of an MS-13 clique operating in Brentwood and Central Islip known as Sailors Locos Salvatruchas Westside. Charges are still pending against his brother, Jairo Saenz, who prosecutors say was a second-in-command in the local gang.


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Philip Marcelo, Associated Press