- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

One of the four MS-13 gang members on trial for killing a pregnant gang member should be found not guilty in the case because he was brave enough to face his accusers and co-defendants, a defense attorney argued yesterday.

In closing arguments, attorney Alex Levay told jurors that his client, Oscar Garcia-Orellana, 32, didn’t have to testify.

“At the end of those 10 hours of testimony, nobody had impeached him,” Mr. Levay said. “Oscar might not have been brave enough to intervene, but he was brave enough to take the witness stand.”

Mr. Levay’s arguments came before the jury began its deliberations in the capital murder trial of four MS-13 — or Mara Salvatrucha — gang members who prosecutors say fatally stabbed 17-year-old Brenda Paz in 2003.

The four suspects — Garcia-Orellana, Denis Rivera, 21, Ismael J. Cisneros, 26, and Oscar Grande, 22 — are members of MS-13, the largest and most violent gang in Northern Virginia.

Prosecutors say Rivera was the leader who ordered Miss Paz’s slaying from jail, where he was being held on another murder charge. Prosecutors say the four men knew that Miss Paz would be a witness in Rivera’s murder trial.

Miss Paz had been a gang member since she was 12 in Los Angeles, and was “greenlighted,” or targeted for murder, because she was talking to police.

Miss Paz had entered a federal witness protection program in Virginia in 2002 and was talking to federal and local law-enforcement officers until she voluntarily left the program in mid-2003.

The defendants are accused of killing a federal witness, among other charges. If convicted, they face the death penalty.

Miss Paz was killed July 13, 2003. Her body was found four days later on the bank of the Shenandoah River. Her unborn baby did not survive the attack.

Court testimony revealed that gang leaders in El Salvador, Los Angeles and Texas called for Miss Paz’s “greenlight,” but Rivera was accused of directing her murder by telephone from jail where he was held on a charge of killing a rival gang member.

Garcia-Orellana had testified that he did not know Rivera and that, contrary to more than two dozen recorded telephone calls, he had never talked to Rivera.

Previous statements attributed to Cisneros and Grande indicated that Garcia-Orellana either grabbed Miss Paz around the neck or used a rope, while the others stabbed her.

Garcia-Orellana denied those accusations. He told jurors that he had gone with Cisneros, Grande and Miss Paz to the Shenandoah River because he thought they were going fishing. He said he was walking along the riverbank when he heard Miss Paz scream. He said he turned around and saw Cisneros and Grande stabbing her and that he ran away.

Mr. Levay reminded the jury that the autopsy report showed no rope marks on Miss Paz’s neck or any rope fibers under her fingernails.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. argued that it was ridiculous for the jury to believe that two persons committed the murder while another backed out. “Only you can discern whose testimony you credit,” Mr. Walutes told the jury.

Defense attorneys speculated that several key witnesses would get their sentences reduced or be given special consideration in exchange for their cooperation with the government.

Mr. Walutes denied the speculation, indicating that no special consideration will be given to the witnesses.

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