A member of the Salvadoran street gang Mara Salvatrucha was sentenced yesterday in Fairfax County to three consecutive life terms for the 2001 rape and killing of a Falls Church area woman, making him the third local member of the gang to receive a life term for murder.
Oscar Omar Ramos Hernandez, 26, sat quietly during the brief hearing and declined to speak when Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Kathleen H. MacKay offered him the opportunity before the sentence was imposed. A large "MS" tattoo was spread across the back of his shaved head, indicating his allegiance to Mara Salvatrucha, and investigators said his back also has MS tattoos.
Oscar Omar Ramos Hernandez pleaded guilty.
(Courtesy of the Fairfax County Police Dept.)
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Hernandez pleaded guilty in December to charges of capital murder, rape and abduction with intent to defile in the death of Diana Garcia. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.
Garcia was the mother of a 2-year-old girl who has moved to Belize to live with Garcia's mother.
Eleven Northern Virginia residents have been slain in gang-related incidents since July 2000. Nine of those are believed to have been committed by members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. Seven of the 11 victims are thought to have been gang members. But Garcia was not among them.
Hernandez was one of three MS-13 members who were hanging around a 7-Eleven store on Patrick Henry Drive when they spotted Garcia walking home alone about 2 a.m. on Aug. 13, 2001.
According to police testimony and court documents, Hernandez told police that he, Omar Guzman and the third man had drunk 48 beers in the hours before encountering Garcia. "We were very drunk," Hernandez told Fairfax Sgt. Richard J. Perez, according to court documents.
The three men followed Garcia as she walked toward her apartment. Hernandez said one of the others claimed that Garcia was a rival gang member, or a chavala. According to a transcript of Perez's interview with Hernandez, Hernandez explained the duty to fight, hurt or even kill felt by members of MS-13 when they encounter rival gang members.
"We grabbed her because of that," Hernandez said. "Otherwise I would not have done anything."
Garcia was not in any gang. She was a waitress at a nearby restaurant.
Hernandez said he and the other men dragged Garcia behind her apartment building and raped her. They then asked Garcia if she was going to call police. Garcia said she was.
Hernandez then kicked Garcia in the neck, he said. "I only kicked her, and that was all," Hernandez said. "I never thought of killing her."
The blow ruptured an artery. Her body was discovered later that morning by a passerby.
In 2002, Hernandez fled to Georgia. He was arrested there, told immigration authorities that he was Mexican and was deported to Mexico. He soon returned to the United States through Texas, where he was arrested for robbery and convicted.
He was extradited to Virginia in April after serving his Texas sentence. On the flight back, Perez interviewed him about Garcia's killing and life in a gang.
Hernandez told Perez that he was born in El Salvador and was "jumped in," or initiated, into the gang at age 13. He said he participated in a machete killing there when he was 16 and moved to the United States when he was 22.
"You never think when you are young," Hernandez told Perez, "in this stuff, that you will be caught. . . . It felt very good, going around, having a good time, you know?"
Regarding Garcia's killing, Hernandez blamed the alcohol as much as the gang. "It is just that when you are drunk," Hernandez said, "things enter your mind, that you can do some kind of stupidity."
Guzman pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, rape and abduction in October 2003 and is awaiting sentencing. The third participant remains at large.
Hernandez is the first MS-13 member to be sentenced to life in prison in state court. Two other members, Denis Rivera, 20, and Noe David Ramirez-Guardado, 22, were sentenced in federal court to life in the September 2001 slaying of Joaquim Diaz on Daingerfield Island, federal land near Alexandria.