Teenager Gets 41/2-Year Term in School Stabbings

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Montgomery County judge yesterday sentenced a Silver Spring teenager to 4 1/2 years in prison for his role in gang-related stabbings last summer at Springbrook High School that left two teenagers wounded.

Harris Hauffen, 18, received the sentence from Circuit Court Judge Nelson W. Rupp Jr. after pleading guilty in February to a charge of conspiracy to commit first-degree assault.

Rupp called the stabbings an "extreme act of violence" and said he intended the sentence, which matched that requested by the prosecution, to send a message. The "defendant's involvement, which was to bring gang members to inflict acts of violence, reflects conduct and behavior not to be tolerated," he said.

The stabbings in broad daylight Aug. 5 at the Silver Spring high school, together with a second incident later that day at a Wheaton shopping center that left four teenagers wounded, drew wide attention and condemnation from county officials at the time.

Both attacks involved assailants who were members of the violent Latino gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, according to prosecutors, who said they were not able to establish that the cases are related.

The Springbrook stabbing stemmed from a verbal exchange -- described by one official as "trash-talking" -- involving Kevin M. Mendoza, who was attending summer school, and another student. Mendoza and Hauffen, who prosecutors said are members of MS-13, used a cellphone to summon other gang members to the school.

Several MS-13 members showed up, among them Luis A. Guzman Jr. and Nelson Bernal, also known as Alfredo Sanchez, and they lay in wait outside the school when classes let out, prosecutors said. The student they were looking for passed unnoticed, but two of his friends, David Gamero and Juan Quito Jr., were attacked by Sanchez, who had a knife, prosecutors said.

Gamero, wounded in the head, lower back and abdomen, was "eviscerated," Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey T. Wennar said, and Quito was stabbed in the back. Despite previous comments by law enforcement officials that the stabbings involved rival Latino gangs, Wennar said yesterday there is no proof that the victims were gang members.

"The attack was gang-involved and was directed by Mendoza and Hauffen," Wennar told the court.

Hauffen's sentence is the stiffest yet handed down in the Springbrook case. Mendoza pleaded guilty to the same offense as Hauffen but received an 18-month sentence May 12 from Judge John W. Debilius III. Guzman pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree assault and was sentenced May 15 by Judge Katherine D. Savage to 88 days, the time he had already served in jail.

Public defender Samuel Delgado, representing Hauffen, asked that his client receive a comparable sentence, but Rupp refused, suggesting that the punishment given to the other defendants was too light. "It frankly concerns me," Rupp said at the sentencing.

Charges were dropped against two other men accused of involvement in the Springbrook stabbings -- Sanchez and Wilber Garcia-Martinez -- because they have been indicted on federal racketeering charges and await trial in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Hauffen apologized in court for his actions. "I'm young, and I made a mistake," he said. Delgado said that although Hauffen associated with members of MS-13, he was not a member of the gang.

Candace Katter, executive director of Identify, a nonprofit organization that provides outreach programs for Latino youth in Montgomery County, testified on behalf of Hauffen, who did community service at the organization because of disciplinary problems. Hauffen is eager for rehabilitation and a chance to succeed, she said.

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