- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

The slaying of a pregnant MS-13 gang member who had been in a federal witness program for about a year threatens the criminal justice system in the country, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Giles told a jury in Alexandria yesterday.

“There is no greater threat to our system of justice than an attack on our witnesses,” Ms. Giles told jurors in closing arguments. “What would court be like without witnesses?”

The arguments came at the capital murder trial of the four MS-13 — or Mara Salvatrucha — members who prosecutors say stabbed to death 17-year-old Brenda Paz on July 13, 2003. Her body was found four days later on the banks of the Shenandoah River.

The four suspects — Denis Rivera, 21, Ismael J. Cisneros, 26, Oscar Garcia-Orellana, 32, 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 entered a federal witness protection program in Virginia in 2002 and was talking to federal and local law-enforcement officers until she 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.

In closing arguments yesterday, defense attorneys suggested that the U.S. law-enforcement agencies failed to provide protection for Miss Paz.

“Police did not properly protect Brenda Paz,” said Robert Jenkins, an attorney for Rivera. “A lot of people wanted Miss Paz dead. … She maintained her gang connections to the very people who wanted to kill her.”

Cisneros’ attorney, Nina Ginsberg, echoed Mr. Jenkins’ arguments. “The government jeopardized this young girl,” she told jurors. “She knew what the rules of the gang were,” but law-enforcement officials permitted her to leave the safety of living in Philadelphia, Kansas City and Minneapolis to return to the gang in Northern Virginia that she considered family.

Testimony revealed that the gang had placed a “greenlight,” or a murder order, on Miss Paz, because she had been talking to police.

Mrs. Ginsberg said Miss Paz “jumped into the gang” at the age of 12 or 13 in Los Angeles, where it was formed, and then “jumped into the gang” three more times as she moved to Texas and then to Virginia. The government provided little money to her and did not help her gain an education or get a job, she argued.

“She needed the gang. She needed the sense of belonging,” Mrs. Ginsberg said. “You could almost say that Brenda Paz didn’t care about her own safety. … The gang was an obsession.”

Mrs. Ginsberg argued that Cisneros was the only person to defend Miss Paz.

“He liked Miss Paz. She was a member of the gang. … [Cisneros] argued that the gang wait until she had the baby.”

Miss Paz’s unborn baby did not survive the attack.

“Mr. Cisneros did not kill Brenda Paz by himself,” Mrs. Ginsberg told jurors, but “he knew and obeyed the rules of the gang.”

Attorneys for Grande and Garcia-Orellana are expected to present their closing arguments today. The jury then will begin deliberations.

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