LONG ISLAND (PIX11) – Four years after he allegedly lured his 19-year-old girlfriend and her 2-year-old son to their deaths in the woods of Long Island, a reputed gang member formerly on the FBI’s Most Wanted list pleaded not guilty Monday in the “execution-style” slayings.
Juan Elias Garcia was recently named one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted fugitives. He surrendered to authorities March 27 at the U.S. Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua.
Garcia, who was 17 years old at the time of the killings, pleaded not guilty Monday to seven charges, including two counts of murder.
Investigators credited news coverage for helping to capture Garcia, whose photograph was published on stations in the U.S. and abroad.
“The pressure generated by this publicity was too much for Garcia to bear, resulting in his surrender and return to the United States,” the FBI said in a news release.
A reputed member of the MS-13 street gang, Garcia is accused of luring Vanessa Argueta and her toddler son, Diego Torres, into a wooded area in Central Islip, where he and two others allegedly killed them “execution-style” on Feb. 4, 2010, the FBI said.
Investigators said events leading up to the slayings were sparked by an argument between Garcia and Argueta, who had ties to the 18th Street gang and the Latin Kings, two of MS-13’s rivals.
After the fight, rival gang members allegedly threatened Garcia, who told Adalberto Ariel Guzman and Rene Mendez – also reputed members of the MS-13 gang – that he thought Argueta was responsible for the threats, the FBI said.
The group allegedly obtained permission from their leader to retaliate against the 19-year-old, investigators said.
Garcia had plans to go to dinner with the victims the night of the killing, but instead allegedly drove them into the woods in Central Islip, about 48 miles east of New York City.
“Once they were in the woods, Garcia shot Argueta in the chest, and Mejia shot Argueta in the head with a .22 caliber handgun,” investigators said. “They then turned the gun over to Guzman, who shot 2-year-old Torres twice in the head.”
The victims’ bodies were found the following day.
The 19-year-old’s father and brother were in court Monday to see their loved one’s alleged killer face a judge.
“Vanessa was very special to me,” Joshua Agueta said of his sister. “Diego (her son) was a really happy little boy and she was, like, the best sister ever.”
Two co-conspirators in the slayings have been convicted of murder and are awaiting sentencing, the FBI said. A fourth defendant charged in connection with the murders—Garcia’s MS-13 leader—has been sentenced to three terms of life in prison, plus 60 years.