A key witness in a murder involving MS-13 gang members was found dead in Long Island thanks to a new criminal justice reform law that requires prosecutors to share witnesses’ identities with defendants.
On Wednesday, Nassau County officials announced that 36-year-old witness Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez was discovered bludgeoned to death behind an abandoned home in New Cassel on Sunday, New York Post reported.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said Rodriguez’s death was a result of the discovery laws progressive lawmakers passed in the New York State legislature, which went into effect on Jan. 1.
“The system failed, the system failed,” the commissioner said at a press conference. “This man is dead because we didn’t do enough … and this law is not helping us.”
Rodriguez was a key witness in an October 2018 attack in which nine MS-13 gang members allegedly stabbed Rodriguez several times and hit him over the head with a bat, officials said. He reportedly intervened when the MS-13 gang members threatened two boys, who they also beat.
By law, prosecutors were compelled to reveal Rodriguez’s identity to an arrested suspect’s defense team. That information, although unproven, made it’s way to other MS-13 gang members, who likely killed Rodriguez.
Notably, Ryder acknowledged there is no evidence that the lawyers handed Rodriguez’s name over to the defendants, who have been in jail since 2018.
“What we do know that right after [the information was shared] we started [seeing] that pattern of intimidation,” and ultimately Rodriguez’s death, Ryder said.
Rodriguez was attacked the day before he was killed, but was able to escape, Ryder said. Police believe he was killed by MS-13 associates of the gang members in jail.
According to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, before the law was enacted, Rodriguez’s identity was concealed through a court-issued protective order obtained by prosecutors in December 2018.
“This courageous man was prepared to testify against alleged assailants at an upcoming trial, but he was brutally beaten to death before he could,” Singas said in a statement reported by New York Times. “This case underscores the importance of safeguarding the identities of witnesses and victims of crime and our hearts are with Mr. Maldonado’s family and friends as we grieve his loss.”
Laura Curran, Nassau County Executive, added that the new discovery requirements posed a threat to victims and witnesses of crimes.
Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the State Senate’s Democratic majority which was in favor of the new law, defended it, saying Rodriguez’s death “has absolutely nothing to do with the new criminal justice reforms.”
Another victim from the October 2018 attack was shot at in New Cassel on Jan. 30, the commissioner added.
On Jan. 30, one of the other victims from the October 2018 attack, was shot at in New Cassel, Ryder said. The trial was scheduled for Jan. 6, but did not begin on time, he added.