washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Special Reports > Gangs

Attorney Protests Legal Maneuvers in MS-13 Killing

By Tara Young
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page B05

Prince William County prosecutors have dropped murder indictments against two reputed members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang who were charged in the slaying of another gang member whom they accused of being a snitch.

But before Wilfredo Montoya-Baires, 26, and Fredy Escobar, 23, could walk out of jail, they were served with arrest warrants charging them anew in the Aug. 11 shooting and stabbing death of Jose Escobar, 22, in a Manassas area townhouse. Both men are being held without bond as their cases work their way back through the criminal justice system.

_____From The Post_____
Trial Witness in MS-13 Case Flees but Is Apprehended (The Washington Post, Mar 29, 2005)
To Stop Gangs, Provide Youth Programs, Officials Say (The Washington Post, Mar 20, 2005)
Honored for a Gang Truce (The Washington Post, Mar 18, 2005)
As Va. Area Evolves, Views Diverge (The Washington Post, Mar 15, 2005)
MS-13 Crackdown Nets 35 in Region (The Washington Post, Mar 15, 2005)
More Stories

Escobar's attorney, David Bernhard, said the prosecutors in his client's case are violating the spirit of Virginia's speedy-trial law, which requires that a defendant be tried or exonerated within five months of incarceration.

Bernhard came to court yesterday ready to defend his client in what he thought would be the start of a first-degree murder trial.

"Either they are ready or they are not ready," Bernhard argued. "Show us the money, get your cards on the table. Get ready for trial."

But Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James A. Willett told Circuit Court Judge Richard B. Potter that his office has a responsibility to present its best case. Willett said he expects to receive tapes from the federal government of conversations among MS-13 members with possible references to the August slaying.

"In a serious case where someone has lost a life . . . we want to be in the strongest position before we go forward," Willett said.

Prosecutors have said that gang members across Northern Virginia took a vote to execute Jose Escobar because they believed he had helped immigration agents try to deport another gang leader so that Escobar could be promoted. Police said four fellow gang members spread through the townhouse in the 8100 block of Community Drive -- a gang "safe house" -- and sealed off the exits so that Escobar could not leave.

Montoya-Baires is accused of firing the gun that killed Escobar. The victim, who died later at Inova Fairfax Hospital, was shot in the chest and suffered knife wounds to the chest, neck and left arm. Police have said that Fredy Escobar, who is not related to the victim, guarded a door and carried a large knife.

Prosecutors asked the court to drop charges against Montoya-Baires on March 4. He was served with arrest papers a short time later and was never released from jail.

Barry A. Zweig, his attorney, said he expects his client to be indicted again next month.

Potter yesterday granted Willett's request to drop the indictment against Escobar, who also never left jail.

Bernhard argued yesterday that granting the state's motion to drop charges was unfair to his client, who has been in jail for five months awaiting trial.

"Theoretically, they could do this over and over," Bernhard said.

Initially, four men were charged in the slaying, but prosecutors dropped murder and weapons charges against Reynaldo Alexander Cordova, 22, after the victim's uncle testified during a preliminary hearing that he did not witness the attack. The uncle changed his testimony at preliminary hearings for Escobar and Montoya-Baires.

Bernhard said the case should be dismissed because the uncle, Raul Escobar, a former Mara Salvatrucha gang member, keeps changing his story.

Police are searching for Carlos Avalos, the owner of the townhouse and the fourth defendant in the case.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company