Woman pleads guilty to negligent homicide in death of New York anti-gang activist

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — A New York woman has pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the 2018 death of an anti-gang activist during a dispute over a memorial for the activist's slain daughter.

Annmarie Drago, 63, of Patchogue, entered the plea Friday in a Long Island courtroom and is expected to be sentenced to five years of probation, Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney said in a statement. Sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 1.

Authorities said Drago struck Evelyn Rodriguez with her vehicle and then drove over her in Brentwood in September 2018, killing the 50-year-old activist.

The two were involved in confrontation after Drago had removed items from a memorial Rodriguez had set up in front of Drago's mother's house to mark the two-year anniversary of the discovery of the body of Rodriguez's daughter, 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, prosecutors said.

Drago was trying to sell the house at the time and did not want the memorial to scare off buyers, prosecutors have said.

Kayla was hacked and beaten to death along with a friend in 2016. Authorities said they were killed by MS-13 street gang members in a dispute among high school students.

“Evelyn Rodriguez was still mourning the loss of her daughter when this defendant dismantled her daughter’s memorial and then struck the victim with her vehicle, ultimately causing her death,” Tierney said. “We hope this plea brings some sense of peace and closure to Ms. Rodriguez’s family, a family that has suffered multiple tragic losses.”

The plea deal with probation was approved by a judge. Tierney’s office had recommended a prison sentence of one to three years but the deal approved by the judge called for only probation.

Drago's lawyer, Matthew Hereth, did not immediately return a message Saturday. He and Drago declined to comment after Friday's court appearance, Newsday reported. A message seeking comment was left at a phone listing for Drago. Her previous lawyer called Rodriguez's death a “tragic accident.”

Drago was tried twice in connection with Rodriguez's death.

She was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in 2020 and sentenced to nine months in jail, but the conviction was overturned and the judge ordered a new trial, citing prosecutorial misconduct. Her second trial ended in a mistrial last year when jurors deadlocked on a negligent homicide charge.

Rodriguez became a symbol in the fight against MS-13 gang violence after her daughter's death.

When he was president, Donald Trump visited Brentwood and vowed a national crackdown on MS-13. He recognized Rodriguez and her daughter at his State of the Union address in January 2018.