ALEXANDRIA — The first link in the chain of events that led to the violent death of Brenda Paz apparently was the product of her own carelessness, jurors were told yesterday.
Testifying in the trial of four gang members charged with plotting and carrying out Paz’s murder, Maria Gomez said a purse she had allowed Paz to borrow contained something troubling upon its return: the business cards of three police officers, including one bearing the name of one of the top gang investigators in Arlington County.
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She made the discovery in February 2003, about the time Paz had started cooperating with police investigating gang crimes in Virginia and several other states.
“To me, she was a snitch,” said Gomez, 20, whose brother is a member of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang, also called MS-13.
Gomez told another MS-13 gang member — her former boyfriend, Ismael Cisneros of her discovery. She said she didn’t want Paz to get Cisneros, 26, in trouble with the law. But Cisneros was disbelieving and vigorously defended Paz as a loyal gang member, Gomez testified.
Four months later, in June 2003, the suspicions about Paz were underscored when Gomez’s brother went through her luggage and found a diary and two datebooks, according to Gomez. The books, according to prosecutors, contained detailed notations Paz had made about the police officers she met with and the cases with which she was helping them.
A few weeks later, the 17-year-old Paz was dead, stabbed to death. Cisneros is now among the gang members charged with killing her. Her body, with more than a dozen stab wounds, was found on a bank on the Shenandoah River on July 17, 2003. Prosecutors contend she was killed to silence her.
Among gang members, Gomez said, the death of Paz evoked little sympathy. She told the jury that when the topic of Paz was raised during a talk with Oscar Antonio Grande, who is also charged in Paz’s death, his reaction was direct and expected.
“He said what anyone else on the street would have said,” Gomez testified. “That she got what she deserved.”
The testimony came on the eighth day of the trial of Cisneros; Grande, 25; Oscar Garcia-Orellana, 31; and Denis Rivera, 21, in U.S. District Court.
Rivera is accused of masterminding the murder plot from his jail cell, where he was awaiting trial in a gang-related killing. Paz was to testify against him. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
All four defendants have pleaded not guilty, and each could get the death penalty if convicted.
The trial has provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of MS-13, considered the largest and most violent street gang in the country, with a growing presence in Virginia. Several current and former gang members have testified in the case, testing MS-13’s ruthlessly enforced code of silence.
One of those gang members also testified yesterday and implicated Cisneros, Grande and Garcia-Orellena. Jose A. Carreras, 25, said that Cisneros, a few days after Paz was killed, told him what had happened.
“He told me that he did it,” Carreras said. “He said it was in the mountains, near a river, close to a big rock.”
Police said in earlier testimony that Paz’s body was found wedged behind a 20-foot-tall rock.
As she was stabbed to death, Paz was told the reason she was being killed, Carreras said.
Cisneros “told me he said, ‘this is for Mara Salvatrucha,'” Carreras said.
Carreras added that he later attended an MS-13 meeting where Cisneros led a discussion of Paz’s death.
“He said it was done,” Carreras said. “The job was done.”
Testimony in the trial is to resume Monday.
Contact Paul Bradley at (703) 548-8758 or [email protected]