ALEXANDRIA — The night before she died, Brenda Paz curled up on the floor of a hotel room and fell asleep in the arms of one of the gang members now accused of stabbing her to death, a federal jury was told yesterday.
The next afternoon, Paz’s boyfriend, Oscar Antonio Grande, told his cousin that “another teardrop has been earned.” The cousin, former gang member William A. Garcia, said he understood that Grande’s cryptic remark was gang code meaning that someone had been killed.
On a day replete with tense courtroom drama, the 21-year-old Garcia testified in U.S. District Court against four members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang charged with plotting and carrying out the murder of Paz.
Her body, riddled with more than a dozen stab wounds, was found in Shenandoah County on July 13, 2003, about four weeks after she voluntarily left the federal witness-protection program. The 17-year-old Paz had been assisting authorities in gang-related investigations across the country, and prosecutors say she was killed by gang members to silence her.
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04/12/05 – Gang killing trial begins
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Garcia, himself a former member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also called MS-13, testified reluctantly. He spoke nervously, his eyes rarely straying from the floor. He repeatedly answered inquiries by saying, “I ain’t got no answer to your question.”
When called upon by prosecutors to identify the defendants by pointing at them, he balked. “I see them all, but I don’t have the heart to point at anyone right now.”
Garcia said he was testifying “because it’s the right thing to do.” But he also conceded that federal authorities have agreed to resolve his immigration problems — he faces a deportation order — and place him in witness protection in return for his testimony.
Another witness, Victoria Amaya, testified that she allowed Grande to borrow her 1992 Mazda Navajo on July 13, 2003, the day Paz was killed. Grande told her he wanted to drive a gang member called “Mousy” to his job near Harrisonburg.
Paz went along, as did defendants Ismael Cisneros and Oscar Garcia-Orellana, according to testimony. Also charged in the case is Denis Rivera, who is accused of masterminding the murder plot from his jail cell while awaiting trial on another gang-related killing.
Prosecutors contend that after Mousy was dropped off, Paz was lured to the bank of the Shenandoah River under the guise of doing some fishing. There, authorities assert, she was repeatedly stabbed and her throat slashed. Grande allegedly wielded one of the knives. Paz was 17 weeks pregnant when she died. Grande was not the father, according to court documents.
When the Mazda was returned hours later, Grande was at the wheel and Cisneros in the front passenger seat. The exterior was caked with mud, as were the interior carpets and the shoes of Grande and Cisneros, she said. Grande instructed Amaya to discard Paz’s luggage, which she had been storing in the vehicle, Amaya said. She also testified that Grande warned of fatal consequences if she told authorities what she knew about Paz.
Using money panhandled on the street, Amaya had rented a hotel room at the Holiday Inn near the Fair Oaks Mall on July 12, 2003. There, about a dozen MS-13 members and associates — including Paz — had gathered for a night of partying, she said. It was the same room where Paz slept the night before her death.
Prosecutors allege that several gang members gathered there that night to discuss Paz and the plan to kill her. Amaya said women were barred from such gatherings. Garcia said he wasn’t allowed inside because he belonged to a different MS-13 clique than the one holding the meeting.
Both Amaya and Garcia said they had no idea that Paz had been “green-lighted” gang code for an order to kill. But prosecutors expect to call several MS-13 members who did attend the meeting and will offer detailed testimony about what happened.
Contact Paul Bradley at (703) 548-8758 or [email protected]