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Six indicted for two alleged December murders in Far Rockaway and Lawrence

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Six alleged MS-13 members have been indicted for their alleged roles in two murders in Far Rockaway and Lawrence in December 2018.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas identified Yonathan Sanchez, 22, and Carlos Guerra, 18, both of Far Rockaway, who were both indicted earlier this month, and Valley Stream resident Elmer Gutierrez, 19. Also charged were two 15-year-old boys and one 13-year-old girl, who were not identified because they are minors. They will be prosecuted in Youth Court. Singas outlined the charges at an April 17 news conference.

Sanchez and Carlos Guerra were both charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree conspiracy, two counts of second-degree conspiracy and four counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. If they are convicted, Singas said, they could face up to 130 years to life in prison.

Gutierrez was charged with second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree conspiracy, two counts of second-degree conspiracy and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. If convicted, he could get up to 90 years in prison.

Prosecutors said they believe the six defendants each played parts in the murders of Far Rockaway resident Ian Michael Cruz, 23, on Dec. 15, and Far Rockaway resident and Lawrence High School student Harold Sermeno, 17, on Dec. 17.

“Cruz was perceived to be an enemy of MS-13 because the gang members felt slighted by a hand gesture he was photographed doing on social media,” Singas said. “We allege that the defendants also received permission from MS-13 gang leaders in New Jersey to murder Cruz, since they were also trying to move up their gang ranking by ‘putting in work.'” It was promotion through murder, she added.

The girl was said to have had a previous relationship with Cruz, and she was used to lure Cruz to the park with the promise of drugs and sex. Sanchez, using a .22 caliber revolver, then allegedly shot Cruz four times in the head, and a bird-watcher found his body at Bayswater Point State Park in Far Rockaway on Dec. 16.

Sermeno was allegedly killed because of a perceived slight to the gang that was heard on an audio recording, Singas said. The girl supposedly enticed Sermeno to the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence on Dec. 17 with the promise of alcohol and marijuana.

The five other defendants, armed with guns and knives, then allegedly killed Sermeno. A person walking a dog discovered his body the next day. Police officers also recovered a machete and .22 caliber revolver from the apartment that Sanchez and Guerra lived in on Nameoke Street in Far Rockaway.

Although the murders took place in different counties, noted Queens Assistant District Attorney John Ryan, the defendants can be prosecuted in one county because the Queens homicide occurred 500 yards from the Queens-Nassau County border. “Under the law, when a crime is within 500 yards of each county, both counties are able to prosecute,” he said. “[By] allowing our colleagues at the Nassau District Attorney’s office to prosecute both cases, we believe that will be the best way to achieve justice for the families of both victims.”

Sanchez, Guerra, Gutierrez and two juveniles were initially arrested on Dec. 20 last year. The third juvenile was arrested on Dec. 28. Sanchez, Guerra and Gutierrez are expected back in court on May 2. All three are in custody.

"We will continue our zero-tolerance approach to bring justice and eradicate all gang activity in Nassau County," said Thomas DePaola, the Nassau deputy chief of detectives and assistant chief.