- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

A former gang member testified in federal court yesterday that he quit the Mara Salvatrucha gang because it stopped treating him as a family member.

Dressed in green prison coveralls, Sergio Villartoro, 27, told the jury that he had been a gang member for about six years when he was involved in a car accident in December 2000. As a result, his right leg was amputated and his left leg and right arm were broken.

Not one gang member visited him when he was in the hospital, he said.

“That’s when I started chilling with them,” Villartoro told the jury. “I was upset. I considered MS as family. … I didn’t want to be a part of MS-13 anymore.”

His testimony comes on the fifth day of trial of four Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, gang members charged with killing Brenda “Smiley” Paz, a 17-year-old pregnant former gang member.

Federal prosecutors say Oscar Alexander Garcia-Orellana, 31; Oscar Antonio Grande, 21; and Ismael Juarez Cisneros, 25, killed Miss Paz on July 13, 2003, at the direction of Denis Rivera, 20, who was in jail awaiting trial in the slaying of a rival gang member.

Prosecutors contend the four men knew that Miss Paz was talking to police and that she was going to be a witness in Mr. Rivera’s murder trial. The four men are members of MS-13 — the largest and most violent street gang in Northern Virginia.

Each is charged with capital murder and four other charges. They face the death penalty if convicted.

While he was in jail on unrelated charges, Villartoro told the jury, he received three or four letters from Mr. Rivera. Some of them had an “X” over a name, indicating that a person had been “green-lighted” to be killed.

One letter referred to Miss Paz. The letter stated, “Don’t worry about Smiley. She is not ratting,” Villartoro testified. “I didn’t know if he knew she was cooperating or not.”

Earlier testimony revealed that Miss Paz had been an MS-13 gang member for about four years before she was killed. In fall 2002, authorities assigned Miss Paz to the Witness Protection Program and moved her to a safe house in Maryland.

Miss Paz was moved to different locations before she voluntarily returned to Northern Virginia in mid-2003, the witnesses said. Her body was found July 17, 2003, on the banks of the Shenandoah River.

Yesterday, Arlington County Police Detective Leonardo Bello testified that he and other detectives frequently interviewed Mr. Rivera, who often seemed to cooperate with authorities.

All interviews were recorded, the detective told the jury. One recording captured Mr. Rivera saying, “I’ve got somebody who can do it,” when referring to the slayings.

Detective Bello testified that some interviews ran longer than two hours and Mr. Rivera did not refer to Miss Paz’s killing “in those exact words.” Mr. Rivera had told police Villartoro and a couple of others “might be after” Miss Paz, the detective told the jury.

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