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Hispanic Gang Member Who Drove Gunman Is Convicted of Murder

By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007

An Arlington County jury convicted a 21-year-old gang member yesterday in the slaying last spring of a member of a rival gang.

The Circuit Court jury deliberated about five hours before it found Ismael Paiz guilty of second-degree murder, malicious wounding by a mob, lynching, participation in a gang and firearms charges. Paiz, an associate of the Latino street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, faces up to 40 years in prison for the convictions. The jury recommended that he serve 18 1/2 years.

By returning the guilty verdict, the jury agreed that Paiz, of Falls Church, was responsible for the April 27 shooting death of Julio Bonilla, even though Paiz didn't fire the shots that killed Bonilla. According to testimony, Bonilla, 18, was a member of Southside Locos, also known as SSL.

A second SSL member was shot and critically wounded but did not die, prosecutors said.

The prosecution's case during the four-day trial was built on the contention that Paiz, as the driver of a carload of MS-13 members, knew that one of the men had a gun and that the intention that night was to continue a fight with several SSL members. The alleged shooter, Juan Pablo Salamanca Rodriguez, 22, fled to El Salvador immediately after the slaying, prosecutors said. He has been charged in a warrant in connection with the homicide.

Because the shooter escaped arrest, someone had to be the "fall guy," said Blake Woloson, Paiz's attorney.

Paiz "feels morally responsible because he was driving," Woloson said in his closing arguments to the jury yesterday morning. "But that's not the same thing as legally responsible."

The jury disagreed, siding with Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Frank Frio, who painted Paiz as a liar, one who tells "half-truths and who went out [the night of the killing] for the purpose of fighting SSL."

"He was their driver, and he was their backup," Frio told the jury in his closing arguments.

According to testimony, Paiz parked his white Honda near Arlington Mill Community Center and Senior Center the night of April 27. Inside his car were Rodriguez, two of Rodriguez's brothers and Rodriguez's girlfriend. An ongoing dispute with SSL had led earlier in the evening to a "stare-down," in which members of the opposing gangs traded glares, witnesses at a Wakefield High School soccer game testified.

Cars carrying members of both gangs eventually parked near the center in the 900 block of South Dinwiddie Street shortly before 8:30 p.m. Moments later, Rodriguez allegedly fired five or six shots at SSL members as they walked toward him.

"MS-13 was planning this fight," Frio told the jury yesterday. "They had discussed what they were going to do."

Paiz is scheduled to be sentenced in April.

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