- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A jury yesterday found that two MS-13 gang members are eligible for the death penalty for the 2003 murder of a pregnant teenager.

The jury’s decision in U.S. District Court in Alexandria comes a day after prosecutors and defense attorneys began presenting their case about the fate of Ismael J. Cisneros, 26, and Oscar A. Grande, 22, who last week were convicted of killing 17-year-old Brenda Paz.

Yesterday’s decision was required under the law before the same panel can decide on the punishment — life in prison or execution.

Miss Paz was “killed because she betrayed them and MS-13,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr., arguing that the evidence proved Miss Paz’s murder was heinous and premeditated.

Mr. Walutes emphasized the coincidence of the No. 13 in the murder of Miss Paz, who was stabbed and slashed to death July 13, 2003 on the banks of the north fork of the Shenandoah River. Her body was found four days later.

“She died from 13 punctures in the chest,” Mr. Walutes told the jury. “She is killed on the 13th day of July. … Each cut her throat. She’s a witness. They silenced her voice. It was shockingly evil. This was heinous.”

Defense attorneys agreed that the murder was heinous, but argued that it was not planned.

“Where is the evidence that they cut her throat to increase her suffering?” Grande’s attorney David Baugh asked the jury. “Not one witness said that it was planned on July 12 to kill her. There was no indication that she was invited? on a fishing trip to the Shenandoah.

MS-13 gang members had been investigating Miss Paz, who had been a member of the gang since she was 12 years old. They were trying to find out whether she was talking with police about the gang even after she voluntarily left the federal Witness Protection Program and returned to Northern Virginia, Mr. Baugh said.

Cisneros’ attorney James Clark also argued that the murder was not planned. Mr. Clark pointed out that Oscar Garcia-Orellana, 32, the only one of the four original defendants to testify and who was acquitted, made the trip to the Shenandoah and was skipping rocks on the water when Miss Paz was attacked by Cisneros and Grande.

“Substantial planning? No,” Mr. Clark said.

“This event is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy today. It’ll always be a tragedy. Don’t engage in the convoluted logic of 13,” Mr. Clark argued. “It’s a grievous killing. It deserves to be punished,” but reasonable punishment would be life in prison.

After the jury decided that aggravating factors were proven in the case, prosecutors began calling witnesses to prove the validity of a death penalty.

Fairfax County Police Detective Ken Conpher testified that Grande and Cisneros were teenagers on April 17, 1999, when they repeatedly stabbed a 15-year-old boy in the back. Grande later admitted to the assault. Cisneros pleaded guilty and was deported to Mexico.

Francisco Brionez, a Fairfax probation-parole officer, testified that Cisneros was affected by the childhood he spent in Mexico City with his alcoholic father. She said he spent 90 percent of his young life on the streets.

“The happiest day of his life was when he left home,” Miss Brionez told the jury.

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