A federal grand jury indicted four members of a Hispanic gang yesterday in the July 2003 slaying of a 17-year-old pregnant federal informant from Fairfax. The men could receive the death penalty.
The indictment, handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, charges that the four men, who are members of the street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, conspired to kill Brenda Paz. The body of Miss Paz, who was four months’ pregnant, was found July 17 along the banks of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah County, Va. She was killed four days earlier.
Those charged in the case are: Denis Rivera, 20, of Alexandria; Oscar Antonio Grande, 21, of Fairfax; Ismael Juarez Cisneros, 25, of Vienna; and Oscar Alexander Garcia-Orellana, 31, of Fairfax.
“Today’s charges are a major step forward in our united law-enforcement efforts against gang violence in Northern Virginia,” said Paul J. McNulty, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This indictment demonstrates that those who threaten or retaliate against witnesses in criminal investigations will be dealt with in the most severe terms.”
The five-count indictment charges all four men with conspiracy to tamper with a witness or an informant; conspiracy to retaliate against a witness or informant; killing a person aiding a federal investigation; tampering with a witness or an informant; and retaliating against a witness or an informant.
Each man is in custody and could face the death penalty. Mr. McNulty said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft must decide whether to authorize prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
At the time of the Miss Paz’s slaying, Rivera was jailed and awaiting trial for the September 2001 killing of Joaquin Diaz, 20. According to the indictment, Rivera told fellow MS-13 gang members through phone or mail that he wanted “to identify and silence witnesses” who were going to testify against him at trial, which was set for July 14, 2003.
In September 2002, an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor interviewed Miss Paz, who belonged to a clique of MS-13, the indictment reads. During that interview, she revealed her extensive knowledge of MS-13 and its criminal activities, including admissions made to her by Rivera about his involvement in Mr. Diaz’s slaying, the indictment reads.
Miss Paz entered the Witness Protection Program in March 2003 and was relocated outside the Washington metropolitan region, the indictment reads. She chose to leave the program in June 2003 and returned to Virginia where she stayed with MS-13 members.
The four men wanted to know whether Miss Paz was cooperating with police and began monitoring her actions, the indictment says.
In November 2003, Rivera was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder in the slaying of Mr. Diaz. Rivera is serving a life sentence.
MS-13 is the largest gang in Northern Virginia, police say. Fairfax County police estimate there are about 4,300 gang members in Northern Virginia.
“We’ve been trying to get rid of them for months, if not years,” said Mary Ann Jennings, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County police.