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Identity of murdered MS-13 witness wasn't revealed to gang members accused of brutally attacking him in 2018, their lawyers say

'No direct link between the death of Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez and criminal justice reform'

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

In the wake of the uproar that the identity of a man set to testify against MS-13 gang members was revealed to their attorneys before he was found murdered Sunday, a follow-up report from the New York Times indicates that defense attorneys said they never gave the man's name to their clients.

What's the background?

Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez tried to protect two boys being threatened by members of the notoriously murderous MS-13 gang on Long Island in October 2018, officials noted in an earlier Times report.

In response to him standing up for the kids, the gang members repeatedly stabbed Rodriguez and hit him in the head with a bat, the paper said. Nine members of the MS-13 gang were arrested in connection with the attack, WNBC-TV reported.

Nevertheless, Rodriguez agreed to testify against the gang members charged with assault and witness intimidation as a result of the attack, officials told the Times.

Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder told the station prosecutors protected Rodriguez's identity for more than a year. But in early January they had to reveal his name to the gang members' attorneys because the state's new bail reform law — urged into existence by "progressive lawmakers," the Times said — requires it.

After Rodriguez's name was released, Ryder said a "pattern of intimidation" began against him, the Times added.

Rodriguez, 36, was found beaten to death Sunday outside a home in New Cassel, New York, the paper said.

"This courageous man was prepared to testify against his alleged assailants at an upcoming trial but he was brutally beaten to death before he could," Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said, according to WNBC, which added that no arrests have been made in connection with the killing.

Some maintained the death of Rodriguez — who was described as homeless — could have been avoided if not for the new law, the station added.

"The system failed," Ryder said, according to WNBC. "This man's dead because we didn't do enough."

He added to the station that Rodriguez's information "which should have been protected was turned over too early."

Later, Ryder appeared to hedge his remarks, saying there was "no direct link between the death of Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez and criminal justice reform," the Times said.

New information

The Times' follow-up report noted that Rodriguez's identity remained under protective seal and that both defense lawyers of the MS-13 gang members said they never revealed his name to their clients.

Justin Feinman, one of the defense attorneys, told the paper the defendants and Rodriguez appeared to know each other in 2018, the year the brutal attack took place.

“Forget about 2020, in 2018 it seems that the victims had some familiarity with the alleged attackers, and vice versa," Feinman told the Times.

More from the paper:

As the case's trial date — Jan. 6, 2020 — inched closer, prosecutors began discussing how to transfer their discovery material to defense lawyers.

On Dec. 10, 2019, Judge Helene F. Gugerty ordered prosectors to begin producing their investigative material to the defense teams, who were forbidden to disclose any of the information, including Mr. Rodriguez's name, to their clients before Jan. 6.

When the parties arrived in court on Jan. 6, 2020, Nassau County prosecutors said they were not prepared for trial, and requested that the date be moved. All of the defense lawyers confirmed that they had not yet shared any discovery information with their clients, and that they would uphold the court's order until the trial date.

A county prosecutor agreed to allow defense lawyers to share certain discovery information with their clients, but specifically asked that any witness names, like Mr. Rodriguez's, not be shared. Both defense attorneys agreed to those terms.

Defending new state laws

Others noted to the Times in its earlier story on the matter that pinning Rodriguez's murder on new state laws isn't fair.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with the new criminal justice reforms," Mike Murphy — a spokesman for the State Senate's Democratic majority, which lobbied for the bail and discovery changes — told the paper.

Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, added to the Times that law enforcement officials who link Rodriguez's murder to the new rules are off base.

"There is absolutely no way this is related to the discovery laws," she told the paper, adding that she had spoken to some of the lawyers in the case.

One last thing…
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