Members of the MS-13 street gang have been convicted for their roles in the slaying of a northern Virginia teenager they believed was a rival gang member.
A jury at a federal court in Alexandria returned guilty verdicts Monday on all counts against the six, who were residents of Alexandria and Leesburg. Dublas Aristides Lazo, Lelis Ezequiel Tremino-Tobar, Carlos Jose Benitez Pereira and Daniel Oswaldo Flores-Maravilla face mandatory life sentences, and Andres Alexander Velasquez-Guevara faces a potential life sentence. Juan Carlos Guadron-Rodriguez faces up to 25 years in an extortion scheme targeting another victim.
The jury's verdict in federal court in Alexandria comes after a nearly month-long trial.
Four others charged in the death of 18-year-old Carlos Otero-Henriquez had already pleaded guilty.
Their testimony provided extraordinary detail about the inner workings of the deadly organization.
Clique leader Wilmar Javier Viera Gonzalez became one the highest ranking MS-13 gang members to ever testify as a cooperating prosecution witness. He told jurors his job title was east coast program manager for MS-13.
"I was running Virginia," he said.
One of his three nicknames: Demon.
On the witness stand over several days last month, the 24-year-old described in graphic terms the murder of a Leesburg teenager believed to be associated with the rival 18th Street Gang. It was Viera Gonzalez' role to carry out orders laid out in the MS-13 rule book. Chief among those rules was to attack and kill rival gang members.
The victim, Carlos Otero Henriquez, got the attention of one of the clique members after he posted several pictures of himself on Facebook flashing hand signs associated with the 18th Street Gang.
Another witness testified that on the night of Saturday, May 21, 2016, the gang members lured Otero-Henriquez by telling him they were going to a party and promising him that girls were there.
Otero Henriquez climbed into an SUV already occupied by six MS-13 members. As they began to drive from Leesburg to West Virginia, Viera Gonzalez quizzed the newcomer, asking where he was from and whether he belonged to a gang.
At the same time the driver — Dublas Lazo — was searching for a remote area where they could commit the murder without being seen. They finally pulled into a quarry area near Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Viera Gonzalez said he instructed two higher-level gang members not to lay hands on the victim.
Asked prosecutor Patricia Giles, "Why did you say you three should not put your hands on?"
"We want to make more homeboys for VLS", Viera Gonzalez said, referring to the MS-13 clique Virginia Locos Salvatruca. The MS 13 rule book makes it clear, murder of a rival gang member is the way to move up in rank, to become a "homeboy."
Viera Gonzalez says the group got out of the car, pretending they were planning to party and smoke marijuana. Instead, they circled Otero Henriquez.
"What are you guys waiting for, light it up," Viera Gonzalez said, using a code to begin the beating. The four lower-level gang members began to punch and kick the vicitm until he fell to the ground. Viera Gonzalez instructed another gang member to turn on his cellphone light & begin recording, explaining the video would provide confirmation for MS 13 leaders in El Salvador.
"I tell [Otero Henriquez], we just want information about you and your gang. I promise if you give us information we are not going to kill you," Viera Gonzalez said at trial.
"Was that true?" asked prosecutor Patricia Giles.
"No," answered Viera Gonzalez.
In an attempt to get off the ground, Otero-Henriquez grabbed the gang leader's leg. "To get him off me, I kicked him in the face. I told them to finish it."
Asked Giles, "What did you mean finish it?"
"To kill him," replied Viera Gonzalez.
The four lower level gang members, known as paros, then took turns stabbing the victim. An autopsy revealed the 18 year old victim was stabbed 50 times. When it was clear the victim was dead, Viera Gonzalez testified he asked another gang member to take pictures.
"Why did you ask Darky to take pictures," Giles asked.
"To send the confirmation to VLS leaders in El Salvador that he was dead," Viera Gonzalez answered.
After taking the pictures, he instructed the other gang members to remove the victim's clothes and burn them. The body was thrown in a ravine.
"As we walked back to the car we threw the MS hand gesture up in the air," Viera Gonalez said.
The group drove back to Leesburg to the home of Shannon Sanchez. They showered, burned their bloody clothes in the fireplace and cleaned Sanchez' vehicle, which they'd used to drive to West Virginia. They held a gang meeting in the shed behind the house.
Viera Gonzalez testified he asked if everyone was okay. He said two gang members reported they were ready for another murder. Viera Gonzalez instructed everyone to keep quiet about what had happened.
What he didn't know was that his second-in-command, Dublas Lazo, had already been working with the FBI for several months, wearing a wire on his belt buckle to record an earlier gang meeting. The FBI was initially investigating an extortion scheme carried out by the clique to make money. The MS 13 members had been threatening to kill the family members of another young man if he didn't pay "rent", often $100 to $150 each time. A few days after the murder, investigators turned to Lazo who confessed, revealing what had happened on May 21. Agents also had previously placed a surveillance camera on a utility pole outside the Sanchez home.
They recorded the moments when the gang members returned after the murder.
On June 3, 2017 FBI & Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents raided the Sanchez home and collected evidence.
Defense attorneys argued that if federal investigators who had wired Lazo had stepped in sooner, Otero Henriquez might have been saved. Prosecutors rejected that assertion.
The defense team for one of the lower level gang member, Lelis Tremino-Tobar, also told jurors their client wasn't really even part of the gang & was only present that night because he feared for his own life.
They pointed to gang documents that do not show Tobar as a member.
Viera Gonzalez conceded Tobar was the victim of beatdown because he had not been reporting into the gang as required. The beating was the first time Viera Gonzalez had met the young man.
"Did you take him to the lake and did you arrange to beat on him for a violation?" asked lawyer Christopher Amolsch.
"Yes," replied Viera-Gonzalez.
"Did you do it to send a message?"
Viera Gonzalez said Tobar hadn't been communicating with the gang enough.
Still, Lelis Tremino Tobar was one of the five defendants that a jury found guilty after more than three days of deliberation.
Dublas Lazo, Lelis Tremino Tobar, Carlos Benitez Pereira, Daniel Flores Maravilla were all convicted of kidnapping resulting in death and several other charges. They face a mandatory life prison term.
Andres Velasquez Guevara, who invited the victim to the party but did not go to the quarry, was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and faces a maximum life term.
Shannon Sanchez could get up to 15 years when she is sentenced on April 27.