Josue Portillo is the 17 year old Salvadoran who pleaded guilty on Monday to involvement in the murder of four teenagers on Long Island last year.The case made national headlines and prompted many — including President Trump — to call for tighter immigration laws in order to keep the deadly MS-13 gang out of the country. Portillo is reportedly a member of MS-13, which also goes by the name of Mara Salvatrucha.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Portillo Says He Personally Killed One Long Island Teenager By Stabbing Him to Death and Was Involved in the Murder of Others
Portillo told authorities that he helped to plan the murders of four Long Island teenagers in April of 2017. The victims were 16-year-old Justin Llivicura, of East Patchogue; 18-year-old Jorge Tigre, of Bellport; 20-year-old Michael Lopez Banegas, of Brentwood; and 18-year-old Jefferson Villalobos, of Pompano Beach, Florida, who was on Long Island visiting his cousin Banegas at the time.
Authorities say the teenagers were killed because they were suspected of liking MS-13’s rival gang.
Portillo confessed that he had personally stabbed Michael Lopez Banegas to death with knives and was involved in conspiring to murder the others. Appearing in court on Monday, he apologized to the victims’ family members — even though, he said, he understood that they could not forgive him. “I apologize to the family of the victims … knowing my apology will not be accepted,” he said.
2. Portillo Is a Salvadorn National Who Entered the US Illegally
Portillo was 15 years old at the time when the murders in Islip, Long Island took place. He is 17 now. Portillo is originally from El Salvador and entered the United States illegally. He was being held in immigration court when he was charged with involvement in the Long Island murders.
If convicted, Portillo — who was also known as “Sparky” and “Curioso” among gang members — faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. If he is released from jail while he’s still alive, he would likely face deportation to El Salvador.
3. Authorities Describe the Murders as ‘A Horrific Frenzy of Violence’
Authorities say that MS-13 targeted the four boys because they were believed to belong to a rival gang. Prosecutors said the teens “were marked for death merely because they were suspected of disrespecting the MS-13 and being rival gang members.”
Portillo told the court on Monday that he and his co-conspirators had two females affiliated with MS-13 lure five teenagers into the woods. Portillo said the five victims were chosen because they were thought to be members of the 18th Street gang, a fierce rival of MS-13. Court papers describe the attack as “in a horrific frenzy of violence.” The attackers allegedly used machetes, knives, and wooden clubs to murder the four teenagers.
Portillo told the court on Monday, “We tricked the victims so they would go into the woods, so they would be murdered.”
4. President Trump Has Called Members of MS-13 ‘Animals’ And Called For Tougher Immigration Laws
President Trump has threatened to take action against countries that “allow” members of gangs like MS-13 into the United States. Trump has said that other countries “encourage” their violent citizens to immigrate to the US, because they don’t want them in their own coutnries. In a speech back in May, Trump talked about MS-13’s violent crimes and said, “They’re not trying to stop this. I think they encourage people. They don’t want the people that we are getting in their country.”
The president vowed to tighten immigration controls and said he would also cut aid to countries that allow violent gang members to immigrate to the US.
During the same speech, Trump repeated that MS-13 members are “animals” — a statement which had been criticized because some thought he was calling all immigrants animals.
“I called them animals the other day, and I was met with rebuke. ‘They said. They are people, they are people,’” he said, adding, “They aren’t people. These are animals.”
5. Portillo Is Being Tried as an Adult, Because the Judge Said There Is a ‘Substantial Risk’ That He Will Return to Violent Crime If Given a Light Sentence
Portillo was only 15 years old at the time the crime was committed — and normally, that means that he would face trial as a juvenile. However, prosecutors asked for — and received — the right to try him as an adult. He will be sentenced in January, and could face a sentence of life in prison. If he is given a shorter sentence, then he will likely be deported to El Salvador when he’s released from jail.
The judge presiding over the case said that there was “substantial risk” that he would return to “violent activity” if he were sentenced as a minor and given a lighter sentence.