Suspects Denied Bail In Md. Stabbings

Montgomery County  stabbings
Montgomery County Police Department UPPER LEFT:Henry Caballero, age 20, who was charged with the stabbings that occurred yesterday in the Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton mall. RIGHT: Jose Cornejo, suspect in a Montgomery County stabbing. LOWER LEFT: Luis Guzman, suspect in a Montgomery County stabbing. RIGHT: Kevin Mendoza, suspect in a Montgomery County stabbing. (Montgomery County Police Department)

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By Cameron W. Barr and Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 9, 2005

A Montgomery County judge denied bail yesterday to six defendants charged with attempted murder after Friday's gang-relatedknife attacks in the Colesville area and Wheaton, and police said they expect to make three to six additional arrests in the coming days.

Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey T. Wennar promised a swift and effective prosecution. "We are not going to tolerate this kind of behavior," he told reporters outside a Rockville courthouse.

On Friday, Wennar said, several of the defendants yelled the name of the gang Mara Salvatrucha as they stabbed two students in the parking lot of Springbrook High School. The group, also known as MS-13, is the most prominent of several violent street gangs in the Washington area.

The stabbings Friday -- at Springbrook in the Colesville area and a Target store at Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton -- left six teenagers wounded, the largest number of victims in a single day of gang violence in Montgomery. Officials say MS-13 was the aggressor in a two-pronged attack on a rival gang.

Yesterday, the six defendants sat in a room at a county detention center, watching their bond hearing over closed-circuit television. Family members and others in the courtroom viewed the young men and teenagers on a flat-panel display.

There were no shouts of gang loyalty as the defendants answered procedural questions from Circuit Court Judge Stephen P. Johnson. The mother of defendant Rolando Velasquez, 16, told Johnson through an interpreter, "The truth is that my child went to school and I do not know what happened."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has filed documents to detain one of the suspects, Jose J. Cornejo, 25, an indication that he may have immigrated to the U.S. illegally. Wennar said Cornejo, who has prior convictions, would be tried in Montgomery before any handover to federal authorities.

In Northern Virginia, authorities are increasingly bringing gang cases to federal court, seeking to take advantage of the tougher sentences and the broader investigative techniques used by the federal government. There is no indication of federal involvement in the Montgomery prosecution.

Montgomery has had an anti-gang task force for years. Police commanders yesterday instructed Hispanic liaison officer Luis Hurtado not to speak to the media, apparently in reaction to published comments in which Hurtado has criticized county officials for being "deaf" to warnings about gangs.

"That's very unfortunate to have a gag order like that on an incredible resource for the police department," said County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee.

Lt. Eric Burnett, a police spokesman, said officers who talk to the media are "supposed to go through media services."

Burnett also said police expected to arrest three to six other people in connection with the two stabbings.


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