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Murder Trial Offers a Rare Look at Gang

Expert Witness Describes Lives Filled With Violence

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page LZ16

A member of the Fairfax County police gang unit testified at a recent murder trial in Prince George's Circuit Court and offered a rare glimpse into the workings of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, the Latino gang with an estimated 3,000 members in Northern Virginia.

A jury on Jan. 28 found Mario Ayala, 21, of Suitland, guilty of first-degree murder in the beating death of Ashley A. Urias, 38.

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Prince George's prosecutors said they thought the key testimony was that of Detective Michael Porter, who testified about the violent nature of Ms-13. Prosecutors said they thought it was the first time a gang expert had testified as an expert witness in a criminal trial in Prince George's County.

Urias was killed May 22 after a night of heavy drinking with Ayala, Ayala's cousin and a friend of Ayala's. Prosecutors called it a planned hit on a member of a rival gang. Assistant State's Attorney Laura J. Gwinn told jurors that Ayala, along with a cousin and a friend also charged in the killing, were members of MS-13 and that Ayala had learned Urias was a member of 18th Street, MS-13's chief rival. Gwinn argued that Ayala helped lure Urias with the intention of attacking him.

In the home Ayala shared with his cousin, Alexis Ayala, 22, police found blue and white athletic jerseys with the number "13." MS-13 members are known to wear jerseys with that number in those colors. The defendant had a tattoo that indicated membership in MS-13, police said. Police also found photos of the Ayalas flashing gang hand signals.

Porter, a 10-year veteran of the Fairfax gang unit, testified that members of MS-13 would face punishment from fellow members if they encountered an 18th Street gang rival and didn't attack him.

"MS-13 members are expected to, in their words, 'get at' members of 18th Street. No question," Porter testified.

An MS-13 member would not be expected to stand by if his gang compatriots were involved in a fight, Porter testified. "Everybody's considered a soldier if something happens," he said.

If an MS-13 member encountered a gang rival and failed to attack, he would be disciplined after fellow members convened a "court" to determine the punishment, Porter testified. The gang member would face one of three punishments, Porter said: a 13-second beating, a 26-second beating or a 36-second beating. The latter could involve bats, machetes and guns, he testified.

Porter said MS-13 emerged in the mid-1980s in the MacArthur Park area of Los Angeles known as "Little El Salvador."

Porter described MS-13 as a "header gang," with smaller cliques. To join MS-13, one has to join a specific clique, he testified. Loudoun County sheriff's officials have said MS-13 has more than 20 cliques in the county.

Ayala is scheduled to be sentenced March 25. Alexis Ayala, 22, his cousin, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is to be sentenced March 17. The third defendant, Everec Alvarez-Chacon, 27, is scheduled to be tried on a first-degree murder charge May 16.

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