MS-13 gang member pleads guilty in Va. double shooting that wounded pregnant teen

An MS-13 gang member from El Salvador pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges in connection with a 2008 double shooting in Loudoun County, admitting that he opened fire on a man and a pregnant teenager who he thought were members of a rival gang, authorities said.

Edgar Benitez Hernandez, 25, who used the moniker “Shadow,” pleaded guilty to two counts of discharging a firearm in relation to attempted murder in aid of racketeering. Prosecutors said in a news release that he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 35 years when he is sentenced on May 23.

The admitted gang member’s case was unusual, prosecutors said, because it marked the first time in recent history that a Salvadoran citizen was extradited to the United States for gang-related crimes. A Salvadoran investigative unit called the Transnational Anti Gang Taskforce took him into custody in his home country in May and extradited him to the United States late last year, authorities have said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in a news release the case was “indicative of both the cooperation and commitment of U.S. and Salvadoran law enforcement and prosecutors to bring to justice those criminals who commit violent acts on U.S. soil.”

The charges to which Hernandez pleaded guilty stemmed from Sept. 13, 2008, shooting in the Sterling area of Loudoun County, prosecutors said. News reports from the time indicate the incident occurred on North Argonne Avenue, and an 18-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl were wounded.

According to his plea, Hernandez and two others were driving through the Sterling Park area when one of them spotted a person they thought was a member the 18th Street gang, a rival to MS-13. The group parked around the corner, and Hernandez and another person set out to ambush the suspected foe, according to the plea.

Hernandez admitted as part of the plea that he yelled “Mara Salvatrucha Cabrones” and opened fire on a male, and a female, who was pregnant at the time. Both were critically wounded but survived, as did the unborn child, authorities said.

Hernandez was initially charged in 2010, after investigators talked to witnesses and other informants familiar with his gang activity, court filings indicate. It is unclear how he got to El Salvador or how authorities there identified him.

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Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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