Thursday, April 14, 2005

Authorities monitored and recorded more than two dozen telephone calls by four Mara Salvatrucha gang members currently on trial for killing a 17-year-old pregnant teenager in the summer of 2003, several witnesses testified yesterday.

At least two Arlington County deputy sheriffs told an 18-member jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria yesterday that the inmates charged with killing Brenda “Smiley” Paz were told that the calls would be recorded and warned that they could not make three-way telephone calls.

“I monitored 25 calls. I kept a list of numbers called and matched them to others,” Arlington County Deputy Sheriff Juan Gilabert told the jury during the fourth day of testimony in the trial of four MS-13 gang members charged with killing Miss Paz.

Federal prosecutors say Oscar Alexander Garcia-Orellana, 31; Oscar Antonio Grande, 21; and Ismael Juarez Cisneros, 25, killed Miss Paz on July 13, 2003, at the direction of Denis Rivera, 20, who was in jail awaiting trial in the slaying of a rival gang member.

Prosecutors contend the four men knew that Miss Paz was talking to police and that she was going to be a witness in Mr. Rivera’s murder trial. The four men are members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, the largest and most violent street gang in Northern Virginia.

Each is charged with capital murder and four other charges and face the death penalty.

During testimony yesterday, the Arlington County deputy sheriffs told the jury the gang members made three-way calls from jail despite being told they were not allowed. The deputies said three-way phone calls are signaled by a “click.”

“[The] inmates would make a noise anyway to cover the click,” said Arlington County Deputy Sheriff Mike Goodrich.

Earlier testimony revealed that Miss Paz had been an MS-13 gang member for about four years before she was killed. In fall 2002, authorities assigned Miss Paz to the Witness Protection Program and moved her to a safe house in Maryland.

Several government witnesses told jurors earlier this week that Miss Paz was bored at the safe house. Miss Paz was moved to different locations before she voluntarily returned to Northern Virginia in mid-2003, the witnesses said.

Her body was found July 17, 2003, on the banks of the Shenandoah River.

MS-13 gang graffiti was found on a covered bridge and two trash cans at a parking lot near where Miss Paz’s body was found. The letters “V” and “L” had been painted in blue sometime before she was killed.

Federal prosecutors think “VL” is shorthand for “vida loca,” which in English means “crazy life.”

An entomologist from a university in Hawaii confirmed yesterday that Miss Paz had been killed four days before her body was found by fishermen.

Three witnesses also testified that Mr. Grande was seen in a white 1992 Mazda Navajo sports utility vehicle when it was stopped by police in Fairfax County on July 21, 2003. The SUV was later found abandoned in New Jersey.

“The vehicle was searched for weapons but nothing was found,” Fairfax County Police Officer Matthew W. Lulick told the jury. Officer Lulick said he took photographs of the SUV and its passengers, including Mr. Grande.

Eventually, Virginia and New Jersey police and the FBI searched the Navajo and removed more than 50 items, including beer cans and bottles and picnic baskets, for fingerprint checks.

A fingerprint analyst yesterday testified that no significant prints were found.

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