MS-13 leader pleads guilty in case involving 8 murders, including the deaths of 2 girls on Long Island

By PHILIP MARCELO – Associated Press

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — The leader of an MS-13 gang clique in New York pleaded guilty Wednesday to organized crime and weapons possession charges in eight murders, including the 2016 killings of two high school students who were hacked and beaten to death as they strolled through their leafy suburban neighborhood on Long Island.

Alexi Saenz pleaded guilty in federal court in Central Islip and faces a prison sentence of 40 to 70 years. Prosecutors had previously withdrawn their intention to seek the death penalty in his case.

The verdict against the 29-year-old will be announced on January 31.

During the hearing, Saenz spoke sparingly through a Spanish interpreter as the judge asked him a series of yes and no questions about the plea and the crimes he admitted to.

In a statement read by his lawyer, Saenz said he ordered or approved the killing of rival gang members and others who disrespected or were in conflict with members of his clique.

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These included the murders of Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, lifelong friends and classmates at Brentwood High School, who were killed with a machete and a baseball bat.

Saenz said he was not present when the teenagers were killed, but had spoken to other gang members on the phone beforehand and discussed the attack.

He also admitted to providing gang members with cocaine and marijuana for street sale – the proceeds went towards purchasing firearms, other drugs and donations to the larger gang MS-13.

Saenz’s lawyers and supporters declined to comment after the hearing.

Kayla’s father, Freddy Cuevas, said outside court that he was disappointed that the death penalty was no longer an option in the case.

“He’s an animal. He’s inhumane,” Freddy Cuevas said of Saenz. “Hopefully justice will be served soon and we can put this all behind us as far as the families are concerned.”

Nisa’s mother, Elizabeth Alvarado, expressed relief that she and the other victims’ families would not have to go through the trauma of a trial.

“I just want my daughter to find peace,” she said through tears, wearing a black T-shirt with her daughter’s name on the back. “The longer we’re gone, the less peace she’ll find. At the end of the day, she’ll be happy because it’ll all be over.”

The girls’ deaths raised questions about whether police had been aggressive enough to combat the then-serious threat of gang activity in the area’s secondary schools.

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

Police and federal officials arrested dozens of suspected members of MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha), a transnational criminal organization that is believed to have been founded as a street gang in a Los Angeles neighborhood in the mid-1980s by people fleeing the civil war in El Salvador.

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

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

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