Alleged gang member gets 24 years in Md. slaying

The victim, Edwin Umana of Wheaton.
The victim, Edwin Umana of Wheaton. (Family photo)
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Montgomery County gang member was sentenced to 24 years in prison Friday, becoming the first of six alleged members of the Latin Kings to be punished in a stabbing and stomping murder last year on a Wheaton street.

Another defendant, Jose Vasquez, 21, was convicted last month of stabbing the victim in the head and is scheduled to be sentenced next month. Four more defendants are awaiting trial.

The case shocked residents, in part because it began harmlessly enough -- a 21-year-old man calling out to women on a porch as he walked by a house -- and ended up with a half-dozen gang members chasing the man down the street and assaulting him, according to police accounts.

Moments before handing down the sentence, Circuit Court Judge Michael Algeo spoke of the senselessness of gang life.

"There seems to be that mental thing that goes on when you put the numbers together, that all of the sudden you think that you have this awesome power," Algeo said. "And all you have is a bunch of stupid people, doing stupid things, all in the name of, 'I'm a Latin King' or 'I'm MS-13.' Well, isn't that just special?"

The defendant, Christian Salmeron, 20, had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. At his sentencing Friday, he stood and spoke for about four minutes, struggling with what to say as he apologized several times to relatives of the victim, Edwin Umana of Wheaton, who were seated in the courtroom. "This is something that never should have happened," Salmeron said.

Umana's mother, Blanca Fuentes, also spoke, saying that her grief has become worse since Umana was killed in July and that recently she has heard her son's voice. "Edwin tells me, 'Mom, it was not my time to die,' " she said.

In an interview after the hearing, Fuentes said she has sought the help of a counselor. "I can't sleep because I hear him talk to me," she said.

Relatives remembered Umana as a generous person who worked at a Five Guys hamburger restaurant and at a Party City store. He was not a gang member, said Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney John Maloney, who helped prosecute the case.

Five days before Salmeron's sentencing, Algeo sent Renee Bowman, 44, to prison for the rest of her life for killing two of her adopted daughters and abusing the third. "I have to tell you, Mr. Salmeron, that this has been a bad week," he said. "This stinks."

The judge's sentence of 24 years was near the top of sentencing guidelines in the case. He told Salmeron that his remorse seemed genuine, which isn't always the case among defendants.

"You want to be a member of the gang, you're going to have an opportunity. You can go to the Department of Corrections," Algeo told the defendant. "I have heard that they have gangs in there. But I sure hope that you choose a different road, my friend."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company