- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

An MS-13 gang member on trial in the 2003 killing of 17-year-old Brenda Paz testified yesterday that he did not touch the girl but that he saw two other gang members fatally stabbing her.

“I was looking around,” Oscar Garcia-Orellana testified in his defense. “I heard a scream. I turned around. I saw that Miss Brenda was being stabbed.”

“It was fast. A few seconds,” he said. “I was scared. I did not touch Miss Paz. I did not touch anybody. … She had not done anything to me. I did not know her.”

Garcia-Orellana, 31, testified through a Spanish interpreter before a jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. He most likely is the last witness in the four-week trial that is expected to conclude with closing arguments Monday.

On trial with Garcia-Orellana are Oscar A. Grande, 21; Ismael J. Cisneros, 25, and Denis Rivera, 21, the leader accused of ordering Miss Paz’s slaying from jail where he was being held on another murder charge at the time.

All four suspects are members of MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, the largest and most violent gang in Northern Virginia.

Miss Paz had been talking to federal and local law-enforcement officers until she left the federal Witness Protection Program in mid-2003. She was killed July 13, 2003, and her body was found four days later on the banks of the Shenandoah River.

The defendants are charged with killing a federal witness and four other charges. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

In court yesterday, Garcia-Orellana first described the killing when questioned by his attorney Alex Levay.

Garcia-Orellana, nicknamed “Gato” for “cat,” testified that he attended an MS-13 meeting at a hotel in the Fair Oaks area the night of July 12, 2003. He said he did not know that Miss Paz’s slaying was planned when he got up the next morning and rode away in a white sport utility vehicle with his friends Cisneros and Grande.

“They didn’t tell me what was going to happen,” said Garcia-Orellana, except that they were going to take a gang member home to Harrisonburg, Va., and go fishing.

Garcia-Orellana said they stopped in Harrisonburg, where he and Miss Paz had lunch in the SUV while the other two men went elsewhere. Next, they went to a parking lot near a covered bridge over the river and walked along the shore, he said.

“I don’t know who stabbed her first,” Garcia-Orellana said. “It was so quick. … I only heard [a scream] once. I ran off. I don’t know if she continued to scream.”

He said he was scared and met Cisneros and Grande later at the SUV.

“I am not guilty,” Garcia-Orellana told the jurors.

Beginning his testimony, Garcia-Orellana told jurors that he was born in El Salvador and that his mother came to the U.S. when he was 7 years old. He said that his father died when he was 12 and that he came to the U.S. in 1998, leaving behind his sister and three of his own children.

His experience with the gangs in El Salvador caused him to slowly enter MS-13 ranks. Garcia-Orellana said he tried to stay away from MS-13 meetings after Miss Paz’s slaying, but indicated that he feared the gang would punish him.

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