The victim of a vicious 2018 attack allegedly carried out by MS-13 gang members has been found dead ahead of trial, prompting speculation about new criminal justice reforms which effectively unmask witnesses.
Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez, 36, was found bludgeoned to death in the Long Island hamlet of New Cassel on Sunday, just days ahead of the projected start of a trial in which he was preparing to testify.
In 2018, Rodriguez intervened on behalf of two boys who were being threatened by MS-13 gang members before he was beaten with a baseball bat and stabbed multiple times, investigators say.
Authorities arrested nine members of MS-13 following the attack.
“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 told Newsday in a statement.
“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.”
As Newsday notes, “under the criminal justice reform that took effect Jan. 1, the defense was entitled to have all discovery information for a certain amount of days before a trial.”
“The identity of Rodriguez was originally under a protective order but was later turned over according to a judge’s instruction as part of pre-trial discovery in which the prosecution reveals its evidence so the defense can prepare,” Newsday reports.
The judge in the trial had reportedly forbidden defense lawyers from revealing Rodriguez’s identity to their clients ahead of the trial’s scheduled start.
However, some officials drew a connection between the new laws and Rodriguez’s death.
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder revealed Rodriguez is the second witness to be attacked ahead of trial, with another being fired upon just days prior to Rodriguez’s death.
“We don’t know if the defense counsel turned that information over to the defendants, but we do know that right after that time period … started this pattern of intimidation,” Ryder said.
“The individuals — whoever did this attack — we believe had received that information,” he asserted, referring to the witnesses’s identities, during a press conference on Wednesday.
Multiple defense attorneys involved in the case have vehemently denied providing such information to their clients.
“I never gave him the name of those people. And he never asked me for it,” said defense attorney Grey Madey.
“I’m offended by the allegation that Denis Pineda had something to do with orchestrating this murder,” Madey continued, referring to his client.
Rodriguez was reportedly homeless at the time of his death.
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