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Gang Member Admits Role in 2001 Va. Slaying

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page B01

A Salvadoran gang member admitted yesterday in a Fairfax County courtroom that he led the gang rape of a Falls Church area woman in the summer of 2001, then kicked her in the neck with such force that it killed her.

Oscar Omar Ramos Hernandez, 26, pleaded guilty to capital murder, abduction and rape and signed a plea agreement to serve three consecutive life sentences. Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen H. MacKay said she would probably accept the deal but ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set a sentencing hearing for Feb. 4.

Diana Garcia, 24, was slain in 2001 by gang members who thought she was a member of a rival gang. (Fairfax County Police)

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The slaying was one of 10 in Northern Virginia believed to have been committed by Latino gangs since 2000. The killing of Diana Garcia, 24, was one of the most brutal and was one of four in which the victim was not a gang member. Hernandez told police that one of his friends claimed she was a "chavala," or rival gang member, just before the attack.

Hernandez was born in El Salvador and told police he was "jumped in" -- or beaten for 13 seconds -- to the gang Mara Salvatrucha there at age 13. Hernandez reported participating in a machete killing in El Salvador when he was 16, served two years in a juvenile facility there and moved to the United States in 2000 in hopes of leaving the gang life behind.

But when he moved to Northern Virginia to live with his sister, Hernandez landed in a hotbed of gang action, with Mara Salvatrucha the dominant group. He told police that he rejoined MS-13 after meeting local members on a corner in Shirlington where day workers gather hoping to find a job, according to a transcript of his interview with police.

Hernandez sat quietly in the courtroom yesterday, a large "MS" tattoo dominating the entire back of his shaved head. Detectives said his back was completely covered with MS-related tattoos as well.

Hernandez and another defendant, Omar Guzman, told police that on Aug. 13, 2001, they were hanging out at the 7-Eleven store on Patrick Henry Drive, just off Route 50, with a third man who remains at large. Guzman pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder, rape and abduction and also is awaiting sentencing.

The three men had downed "four 12-packs" of beer, according to Hernandez. "We were very drunk," he said.

About 2 a.m., they spotted Garcia, who was walking home from a nearby club to her apartment in the 3000 block of Patrick Henry Drive, where she lived with her 2-year-old daughter. The three men followed her to the apartment, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John R. Murphy said, then grabbed her and carried her about 100 yards to a nearby creek.

Hernandez acknowledged that he raped Garcia first, though he claimed Garcia consented, and that the two others followed, the transcripts show. The men then asked whether she was going to tell police, Murphy said, and Garcia said she would.

"At that point, the defendant kicked her," Murphy said, "and she went down." The single blow ruptured Garcia's left vertebral artery, and she died.

Hernandez told police he did not find out until days later, when he was in the Fairfax jail on an unrelated charge, that Garcia had died. "I did not want to kill her," Hernandez told Richard Perez, then a homicide detective and now a police spokesman. "I only thought she had fainted."

In 2002, Hernandez went to Georgia, where he was arrested and deported. He told immigration authorities he was Mexican, so they sent him to Mexico, he told police. He quickly reentered the United States through Texas. Later that year, he robbed and beat a small child in Houston and was arrested.

In August 2002, detectives Perez, Dennis Harris and John Vickery interrogated Hernandez in a Texas prison. Vickery said Hernandez admitted the rape but not the slaying. In a subsequent conversation with Perez, he acknowledged kicking Garcia. He also admitted participating in a stabbing in Alexandria three days after Garcia's slaying and said he intended to kill the victim, who escaped. He still faces charges in that case.

Perez asked Hernandez whether killing someone increased his stature in MS-13. "Hell yeah," Perez said Hernandez told him. "The crazier you're known to be, the more respect the gang gives you," Hernandez said. Hernandez's gang nickname was "Psycho."

When Hernandez was paroled from Texas in April, he and Perez flew together to Fairfax, and Perez taped their conversation. Perez asked whether Hernandez blamed alcohol and marijuana for his actions, or the environment of the gang.

"I am going to tell you it is the gang," Hernandez said. "But I am not blaming the gang. It is just that when you are drunk, things enter your mind, that you can do some kind of stupidity."

Hernandez repeatedly explained the obligation that MS members feel to fight rival gang members at any time. When one of his friends told him that Garcia was from another gang, "we grabbed her because of that," Hernandez said. "Otherwise I would not have done anything to her."

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