- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

The trial of three Maryland men being tried on racketeering charges in connection with gang killings and other violence is scheduled to continue tomorrow in a Greenbelt court.

The trial is entering its fourth week in a U.S. District courtroom where Jose Cruz “Piranha” Diaz, 27, of Lanham; Omar “Duke” Vasquez, 28, and Henry “Homeboy” Zelaya, 20, face life in prison if convicted of federal racketeering charges involving as many as six killings, sexual assaults, kidnapping, robberies, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. The men are suspected of being leaders of MS-13, a national street gang the FBI considers among the deadliest in the country.

Two defendants in the federal government’s case were convicted in November. Eleven have pleaded guilty. All await sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Trusty said when the trial began last month that gang members will be among the 70 to 80 witnesses called to testify and that some will be afraid to face the defendants and tell the truth.

Among the first was Emilia Masaya, 22, who has pleaded guilty to lying and racketeering and has been in jail since her arrest April 5, 2006.

Masaya hopes that her testimony will allow her to remain in the United States, even in prison, rather than be deported to Guatemala.

“I don’t want to go [home] because I know I’m going to be killed,” Masaya said last week after eight hours of testimony.

Much of Masaya’s testimony linked the defendants to gang activity but did not directly connect them to crimes.

Federal prosecutors are expected to continue calling witnesses this week.

Throughout two days on the witness stand, Masaya sat with her back to the defendants, whom she knows personally.

When Masaya entered Judge Deborah Chasanow’s court the first time, she sat shaking on the witness stand for several minutes.

When lawyers asked her to identify the defendants, she turned slowly, looked at each one and nodded her head. She never pointed to them as she was asked.

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