- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A 19-year-old prosecution witness who ran away from home when she was 7 told a federal jury in the death penalty trial of four MS-13 gang members yesterday that the term “green lighting” in the gang’s language meant to kill someone.

Stephanie Schwab, who was on the stand for six hours at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, testified that MS-13 rules snapped the green light on any gang member who warned a green-lighted “target” or talked to the “dogs,” meaning the police.

Her testimony came on the sixth day of trial for Denis Rivera, 21; Oscar Alexander Garcia-Orellana, 31; Oscar Antonio Grande, 21; and Ismael Juarez Cisneros, 25. The four men are members of MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha — the largest violent street gang in Northern Virginia.

Rivera is accused of ordering the other three defendants from his jail cell to kill pregnant gang member Brenda “Smiley” Paz, 17. Her body was found July 17, 2003, on the banks of the Shenandoah River. She had been stabbed at least 16 times a day earlier.

At the time of her slaying, Rivera was awaiting trial in the slaying of a rival gang member.

Prosecutors contend that the four men knew that Miss Paz was talking to police and that she was going to be a witness in Rivera’s murder trial. Each is charged with capital murder and four other charges. They face the death penalty if convicted.

Miss Schwab lived with Miss Paz for more than a month in a safe house in Maryland. Miss Paz was in a witness protection program because she was talking to police and federal investigators about MS-13.

Miss Schwab’s testimony was based mostly on the translation of letters and telephone calls made by Rivera from jail.

In one translation, Miss Schwab testified that Rivera said, “Does she want to play games? Well, we will play games.”

In another instance, Miss Schwab attributed Rivera as saying, “Don’t talk to those dogs,” meaning police officers.

In another instance Rivera said, “There are homeboys who are doing me a favor,” Miss Schwab told the jury.

But under cross-examination by the men’s defense attorneys, Miss Schwab was referred to other translations that seemed to indicate that Rivera had not ordered a hit on Miss Paz.

“Smiley was not ratting,” Rivera was quoted as saying. “She is not ratting on me or on you. … Don’t worry about Smiley. She is not ratting.”

Testimony concluded yesterday with Brazzy Montenegro, 20, who told the jury that she entered MS-13 after graduating from a Virginia high school and became a friend of Miss Paz.

She testified that the gang members would panhandle at the malls — money that ended up being spent on food, drinks and hotel rooms. She told the jury that she was in a Holiday Inn in Arlington with Miss Paz and several others on July 12, 2003.

Miss Paz slept on the floor that night, Miss Montenegro said, but was gone when she woke up the next day. Also missing was a white sport utility vehicle, which police and prosecutors have tied to Miss Paz’s slaying.

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