Dubbed MS-13’s “Little Devil” and convicted of luring four young men to their deaths at the hands of the brutal gang, the Long Island woman is seeking to have her conviction overturned by claiming the government failed to prove their motive for the grisly murders.
Lawyers for Leniz “Diablita” Escobar argued Thursday prosecutors couldn’t show at trial that their client wanted to boost her standing in the gang — but a federal judge seemed unconvinced.
“The jury can infer a person’s motive,” Judge Joseph Bianco said during a hearing in Cin federal court in Islip, where the 23-year-old’s lawyers voted to have her conviction on murder and racketeering charges overturned.
Jurors at Escobar’s April 2022 trial saw evidence that the then 17-year-old persuaded other members of the MS-13 crew to carry out the killings by showing them pictures on social media of the victims saying they were ” taunted” by throwing gang signs.
Escobar, who used the name “Diablita” or “little devil” on social media, then smiled as members of the MS-13 gang hacked the four men to death with machetes – and even her during the April 11 attacks, ” licked the blood from his lips”. , massacre 2017, testified a witness.
However, Escobar’s attorneys argued that the jury “did not have authority” to conclude that prosecutors had reasonable motive in convicting her of violating the federal Violent Crimes in Support of Racketeering (VICAR) statute .
“They just assumed the motive was to increase their position in MS-13,” Escobar attorney Jesse Siegel said of the jury.
Bianco, who led Escobar’s trial, said the “lack of direct evidence” of the motives did not mean the government failed to prove why it lured the men to their deaths.
“Testimony indicated that the motive for the killing was excessive disrespect towards the gang for content posted on Facebook,” the judge said.
“Why can’t the jury conclude that she alerted the gang to the alleged disrespect of telling other members of the gang to do it? [retaliate] because they are hard?”
Escobar’s lawyers also claimed that prosecutors failed to provide evidence that could have aided her defense, including notes from her ex-boyfriend Sergio Vladimir Segovia Pineda, which said that a young woman in a position similar to Escobar’s, also nicknamed “Diablita”, was raped by MS-13 members.
Those notes, Escobar’s other attorney, Keith White, argued, helped persuade the jury that Escobar should not be found guilty of racketeering violent crime charges because her true motivation was fear, not ambition.
Federal Prosecutor Justina Geraci countered that Pineda was not one of the government’s key witnesses and that there was no evidence Escobar even knew about the alleged rape.
“I respectfully say that we could have won this trial without Segovia Pineda,” said Geraci.
Bianco is expected to rule on Escobar’s application at a later date.
Escobar was convicted on April 11, 2022 on charges related to the massacre, in which the victims – who believed they were meeting them to smoke marijuana at a local park – were instead ambushed and hacked to death by the mobsters, what prosecutors dubbed ” terrible” denoted frenzy of violence.”
The mutilated bodies of Miguel Lopez, 20, Justin Llivicura, 16, and Jefferson Villalobos and Jose Tigre, both 18, were left in a pool of blood and found nearby the next day.
The fifth intended victim, Elmer Alexander Arteaga Ruiz, now 22, ran for his life and managed to escape – before testifying against Escobar in court.
MS-13, a notoriously brutal gang also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, was formed by Central American immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Since then, its reach has expanded around the world – including a large presence on Long Island.