Thursday, April 21, 2005
Checking around corners
MS-13 has branched-out to Virginia, making them one of the largest street gangs in the country. They recently decided to leave their first mark on the state.
Jurors weighing the fate of four gang members charged in the killing of Brenda Paz heard a vivid insiders' account of how the Mara Salvatrucha street gang works, plays and brutally enforces its rules.
During a stint on the witness stand that consumed about five hours, former gang member Stephanie L. Schwab described a gang life marked by parties fueled by drugs and beer during which gang members tattooed one another with homemade kits. Petty crimes such as car thefts and vandalism were the norm, she said, gang rapes were common, and members of rival gangs were subject to violent, random beatings.
Schwab was a critical witness in the trial of four members of Mara Salvatrucha -- also called MS-13 -- on trial in U.S. District Court on charges they plotted and carried out the killing of the 17-year-old Paz. Considered the largest and most violent street gang in the country, MS-13 is a growing presence across Virginia.
Charged are Denis Rivera, 21; Oscar Antonio Grande, 25; Ismael Juarez Cisneros, 26; and Oscar Alexander Garcia-Orellana, 31. Each has pleaded not guilty, and each could get the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors charge that Paz, who died just four weeks after voluntarily leaving the federal witness protection, was killed because she was a "snitch."