The Justice Department will no longer seek the death penalty for two alleged MS-13 gang members accused of brutally killing several teenagers in Long Island, New York.
In a letter to a federal judge, Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said Attorney General Merrick Garland directed prosecutors to withdraw notices of intention to seek the death penalty against brothers, Alexi Saenz and Jairo Saenz.
“We write on behalf of the Government in the above-captioned matter, to provide an update to the Court with respect to the status of the death penalty deauthorization requests of defendants Alexi Saenz and Jairo Saenz, and the Department of Justice’s decision whether to seek the death penalty against Alexi Saenz for an eighth murder,” Peace wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Gary R. Brown.
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Brown is expected to oversee the brothers’ trial when it begins March 4. The government initially intended to seek the death penalty for both men in 2020 for their alleged roles in the 2016 killings of 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, and 15-year-old Nisa Mickens.
The killings drew national attention and brought MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha 13) into the national spotlight in July 2017. Then-President Trump visited the Long Island suburb of Brentwood and vowed to eliminate MS-13, a transnational criminal gang with its origins in Los Angeles.
The brothers are also charged in the deaths of Michael Johnson, Oscar Acosta, Javier Castillo, Dewann Stacks and Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla.
Alexi Saenz, 28, was also charged with capital offenses relating to an eighth murder victim, Marcus Bohannon. Peace said he has asked the Justice Department to make a decision regarding the death penalty in the Bohannon case by Nov. 29.
“It is wonderful news and we are relieved for our clients,” Jacqueline K. Walsh of Seattle, one of Jairo Saenz’s lawyers, told Newsday about the DOJ’s intentions.
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Fox News Digital unsuccessfully tried reaching out to Walsh. The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.
Alexi Saenz was the leader of MS-13’s Brentwood and Central Islip-based MS-13 clique. Jairo Saenz, 27, was his second-in-command, federal prosecutors have said.
Cuevas and Mickens were slaughtered in a residential neighborhood near an elementary school on Sept. 13, 2016 — the day before Mickens’ 16th birthday. Her body was found on a tree-lined street in Brentwood, while Cuevas’ beaten body turned up in the wooded backyard of a nearby home a day later.
The two teens were lifelong friends who were inseparable and shared an interest in basketball, friends and family said. The Saenz brothers killed Cuevas because she called out the gang at school and on social media, prosecutors have said.
Officials said Mickens was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The DOJ halted federal executions in 2021, with 13 being conducted during the final months of the Trump administration in 2020.
Cuevas’ mother, Evelyn Rodriguez, became an anti-gang activist and was later killed during a dispute over a memorial honoring her daughter. Annmarie Drago, who is accused of fatally running over Rodriguez in 2018, is being tried for a second time after jurors failed to reach a verdict on the top count of criminally negligent homicide.