- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

A federal judge has ordered jurors in the capital murder trial of two convicted MS-13 gang members not to consult with any clergy until they decide on whether a death sentence is warranted in the case.

“Do not seek outside assistance as to the logic or morality of the death penalty,” U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee told jurors after closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial yesterday.

The jury, made up of seven men and five women, last month convicted Ismael Juarez Cisneros, 26, and Oscar Antonio Grande, 22, in the July 2003 stabbing death of Brenda Paz in Western Virginia. Denis Rivera, 22, and Oscar Garcia-Orellana, 32, both MS-13 gang members, were acquitted on all murder charges last month.

Miss Paz, 17, was pregnant when killed. Her body was found days later by fishermen on the banks of the north fork of the Shenandoah River.

Miss Paz, a longtime MS-13 gang member, was regarded by fellow gang members as a snitch because she talked to police and had been in the federal Witness Protection Program. She left the program several weeks before being killed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Giles said the jury should consider mitigating factors, as outlined by several witnesses last week. But she said those factors did not outweigh aggravating factors of the murder.

“None of these mitigating factors explain the heinous murder of a … girl,” Miss Giles argued. “Not everyone who grows up in a poor home with a drunken father is a murderer. … It is not the MS-13 before you. It is Oscar Grande and Ismael Cisneros. They were the two at the river, stabbing the 17-year-old Brenda Paz.”

Defense attorneys argued that mitigating factors of the two men’s upbringings were enough reason to sentence them to life in prison.

“We’re talking about living in an alley in Mexico City where you shower with a bucket and you struggle every day of your life,” said attorney James Clark, who represents Cisneros. “Every day of Ismael Cisneros’ childhood, he lived in absolute … fear of a brutal beating from a drunken, brutal and sadistic father.”

Those beatings probably caused brain damage in Cisneros, Mr. Clark said, referring to psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the damaged frontal brain lobe disabled Cisneros from making good decisions, while the undamaged rear lobe enabled him to be articulate.

Cisneros was one of 10 children living in a one-room house. His mother from Mexico City and a sister testified that the father woke up and went to sleep intoxicated, and the family frequently was unable to buy food.

Grande’s attorney, David Baugh, also emphasized his client’s difficult childhood, saying that is the only way to explain why someone like his client, and so many others who join MS-13, would embrace the twisted values that the gang represents.

The MS-13 gang, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, is the largest and most-violent gang in Northern Virginia.

Defense attorneys also argued that other gang members knew about the planned murder of Miss Paz and met in a hotel room in Fairfax to plan her slaying. Mr. Clark pointed out that Cisneros had argued to delay the murder until after Miss Paz’s baby was born.

Cisneros and Grande were friends of Miss Paz’s.

“Oscar Grande was the man who cradled Brenda Paz in his arms the night of July 12, knowing she was to be killed the next day,” Miss Giles said.

Cisneros and Grande have a history of criminal violence, Miss Giles said.

In 1999, Cisneros stabbed a 15-year-old boy at a mall in Fairfax at Grande’s behest after Grande and the boy had a fight at a local high school. Several witnesses testified that Grande was frequently violent toward women.

Deliberations will resume Monday.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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