By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 3:38 PM
A federal jury in North Carolina has handed down the first death sentence against a member of the violent Mara Salvatrucha street gang, another milestone in the national and Washington area crackdown targeting the gang known as MS-13, Justice Department officials said Thursday.
Alejandro Enrique Ramirez Umana was sentenced to death Wednesday by a jury in Charlotte after being convicted of racketeering in connection with the murders of two men who "disrespected" his gang signs. Officials said he tried to kill witnesses from jail and attempted to sneak a knife into the federal courthouse in Charlotte. U.S. Marshals found the knife attached to Umana's penis, officials said.
Witnesses testified that Umana, 25, was a veteran member of MS-13, which has its roots in El Salvador and Los Angeles and is considered the Washington region's largest and most violent gang. At least seven MS-13 members were convicted on murder-related charges last year in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, part of a federal probe aimed at crippling the gang in Northern Virginia by targeting its leaders and using federal racketeering statutes once employed against the Mafia.
The FBI and the Justice Department's gang unit are also targeting MS-13 and other violent street gangs nationally, and Umana's death sentence follows a series of indictments and convictions of gang members over the past several months. In Maryland, for example, an MS-13 leader was convicted last month of conspiring to murder two girls and was sentenced to life in prison.
"In courtrooms from North Carolina to Texas and Maryland to Tennessee, the Criminal Division's Gang Unit and our partner U.S. attorney's offices are targeting the most dangerous gang members and taking these violent offenders off our streets," Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the Justice Department's Criminal Division, said after Umana's sentence in the North Carolina case.
He called the sentence "the most severe punishment available under the law against a defendant who has inflicted violence and pain on numerous communities."