The Long Island woman dubbed MS-13’s “Little Devil” — who was found guilty of luring four young men to their deaths at the hands of the brutal gang — is trying to get her conviction overturned, claiming the feds failed to prove her motive in the grisly slayings.
Leniz “Diablita” Escobar’s lawyers on Thursday argued prosecutors had failed to show at trial that their client aimed to boost her standing in the gang — but a federal judge did not appear convinced.
“The jury can infer what someone’s motive was,” Judge Joseph Bianco said during a hearing in Central Islip federal court where the 23-year-old’s attorneys, argued in favor of throwing out her guilty verdict on murder and racketeering charges.
Jurors during Escobar’s April 2022 trial saw evidence that the then-17-year-old convinced other members of the MS-13 crew to carry out the killings by showing them pictures on social media of the victims “mocking” them by throwing gang signs.
Escobar, who used the the name “Diablita” or “little devil” on social media, then smiled as MS-13 gang members hacked the four men to death with machetes — and even “licked the blood off her lips” during the April 11, 2017 massacre, a witness testified.
But Escobar’s attorneys argued the jury “was not justified” in finding that prosecutors had established motive, required to convict her of breaching the federal Violent Crimes in Support of Racketeering, or VICAR, law.
“They just assumed that the motive was to increase her position in MS-13,” Escobar attorney Jesse Siegel said about the jurors.
Bianco, who presided over Escobar’s trial, said that the “absence of some direct statement” indicating motive doesn’t mean that the government failed to prove why she had lured the men to their deaths.
“The testimony was that the motive for the killing was over disrespecting the gang with respect to what was posted on Facebook,” the judge said.
“Why can’t the jury infer that she brought the alleged disrespect to the attention of the gang, that she was telling other members of the gang that they should [retaliate] because they are tough?”
Escobar’s lawyers also claimed that prosecutors failed to hand over evidence that could have helped in her defense, including notes from her ex-boyfriend, Sergio Vladimir Segovia Pineda, stating that a young woman in a similar position to Escobar, also nicknamed “Diablita,” was raped by MS-13 members.
These notes, argued Escobar’s other attorney Keith White, would have helped convince jurors that Escobar should not be found guilty of the violent crimes racketeering charge because her real motivation was fear — not ambition.
Federal prosecutor Justina Geraci countered that Pineda was not one of the government’s most important witnesses, and that there was no evidence that Escobar even knew about the alleged rape.
“I respectfully submit that we could have won this trial without Segovia Pineda,” Geraci said.
Bianco is expected to rule on Escobar’s motion at a later date.
Escobar was convicted in April 11, 2022 on charges stemming from the massacre in which the victims — who believed they were meeting her to smoke marijuana in a local park — were instead ambushed and hacked to death by the gangsters in what prosecutors called “a horrific frenzy of violence.”
The mangled bodies of Miguel Lopez, 20, Justin Llivicura, 16, and Jefferson Villalobos and Jose Tigre, both 18, were left in a pool of blood and were found nearby the next day.
MS-13, a notoriously brutal gang also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, was founded by Central American immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Since then its reach has expanded across the globe — including with a large presence on Long Island.