Death Penalty to Be Sought Against 3

By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The U.S. attorney's office in Maryland announced yesterday its intention to seek the death penalty against three defendants in a racketeering case that alleges numerous gang-related murders in the Washington area.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said he believes the move is unprecedented in his jurisdiction. "I don't think we've ever had a case in Maryland where we've sought death against three co-defendants," he said.

The defendants -- Jorge Rigoberto Amador, 32, Antonio Roberto Argueta, 25, and Juan Carlos Moriera, 27 -- are accused of committing murders as members of the gang MS-13. They are charged, with 10 others, in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in March as part of a case first announced in 2005. The indictment alleges that from 2001 to 2006, the 13 defendants committed crimes in Prince George's and Montgomery counties and in Northern Virginia.

Each of the three men who could be sentenced to death if convicted is accused in at least one killing. Moriera is accused of fatally shooting a fellow gang member in 2003 to prevent him from cooperating with law enforcement authorities and of participating in another slaying and two other shootings.

Federal prosecutors in Maryland last filed a notice to seek the death penalty in July 2006. The defendant, who allegedly killed on behalf of a drug gang in Baltimore, is awaiting trial. Rosenstein's office secured its last death sentence in 2006, against Kenneth Jamal Lighty. The case is on appeal.

The decision to seek the death penalty was made by the attorney general. In the federal system, the local U.S. attorney -- in this case, Rosenstein -- makes a recommendation after meeting with the defendant's attorney. Rosenstein said yesterday that under Justice Department guidelines, he cannot disclose his recommendation.

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