In 2018, Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez stepped in to protect two boys who were being threatened by members of the MS-13 gang on Long Island. Gang members stabbed Rodriguez repeatedly and hit him in the head with a bat. Still, Rodriguez agreed to testify against the gang members. On Sunday, Rodriguez was found beaten to death in New Cassel, N.Y. On Wednesday, his killing became a flash point in the debate over criminal justice changes proposed by progressive lawmakers and enacted by the state legislature last year, the New York Times reports. The killing of Rodriguez, 36, turned attention to a change in the “discovery” law, which governs when prosecutors must turn over information about their investigative findings. It came several weeks after a judge ordered prosecutors to disclose Rodriguez’s identity to lawyers who represented gang members accused of attacking him.
New York had been one of just 10 states that let prosecutors wait until the eve of trial to turn over witness names and statements and other key evidence. Under the new rules, such information must generally be shared within 15 days of a defendant’s arraignment. Madeline Singas, the Nassau County district attorney, said her office had obtained a protective order for Rodriguez in 2018, but that his identity had been disclosed to defense lawyers in December 2019 under a judge’s order. While Singas did not cite the new law as contributing to Rodriguez’s death, she suggested that being forced to identify him well before trial had hampered the authorities’ ability to protect him, and may have cost him his life. Patrick Ryder, Nassau County police commissioner, said, “This man’s dead because we didn’t do enough. This law is not helping us.” Lisa Schreibersdorf of Brooklyn Defender Services said any law enforcement authorities seeking to tie Rodriguez’s death to the new rules were jumping to conclusions with no factual basis.