A former Woodhaven resident pleaded guilty last week to murdering and dismembering his wife in 2007, but the deal he cut for 20 years behind bars seemed like just the latest disappointment to activists who worked to turn what was initially a missing persons case into a murder investigation.
Enrique Lugo is the director of the Corona National Community Center, which played a central role in searching for Reyna de los Santos when she disappeared after a June 19 argument with her husband, 44-year-old Edwin Fuentes, in their apartment at 78-17 88th Road.
“There was no need for a deal,” Lugo said in an interview, “I suspect that he was protected by someone.”
Lugo thought that Queens District Attorney Richard Brown should have prosecuted Fuentes rather than accepting a plea deal and tried to get life in prison for the grisly murder, which left two children motherless, one of whom is autistic.
But a spokeswoman for the DA’s office said the plea deal was a way to assure that Fuentes did time.
Two factors likely led to the decision to offer a deal to Fuentes, she said.
First, if the case went to trial there would have been a chance that Fuentes would have been found not guilty.
And the deal, which was hashed out with the blessing of de los Santos’ family, spared the victim’s daughter, now 13, from testifying on the stand.
Fuentes, a former butcher, admitted that he strangled his wife and then cut up her body, placing part of it in a suitcase he hid in Forest Park, the Queens DA said.
Teenagers discovered the suitcase containing the remains about a year later, and dental records matched those of de los Santos, the DA said.
As part of the plea deal, Fuentes showed police where the remainder of the body parts are hidden, the DA said, and the NYPD located a bag of what appeared to be human remains in Forest Park Tuesday.
Lugo’s distaste over the deal stems from the fact it took more than 2 1/2 years to make an arrest in the case, which he has said was influenced by racial discrimination and intentional ignorance on the part of police. Lugo has even suggested that Fuentes was a police informant of some type and that the NYPD was deliberately protecting him.
In addition, he said the case illustrates how authorities do not exercise their full power when minority women report domestic violence or are reported missing.
“What appears to be a triumph for justice in reality is not a victory in a double-standard system when Latina women are the victims,” Lugo said in a statement. “Although I’m not satisfied with the outcome of the trial, I will not raise the accusatory finger of what went wrong in this case.”
But Lugo has raised that finger numerous times since 2007.
Initially after de los Santos went missing, Lugo and the community center started a tips hotline and put out missing person posters, he said.
But as the community’s suspicions of Fuentes grew, Lugo compiled a dossier of evidence and publicly called on the NYPD to investigate the husband.
“From Day 1 I made it clear to the authorities that Reyna’s husband, Edwin Fuentes, was responsible for her disappearance,” Lugo said in a 2010 statement shortly after Fuentes was arrested.
But the DA said the investigators needed time to put all the pieces together, since it took time to identify the remains found in the park and then to determine with a degree of certainty that Fuentes was responsible.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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