Montgomery member of 18th Street gang pleads guilty to murder

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2010; B01

A Montgomery County gang member pleaded guilty to murder Monday as prosecutors moved to wrap up a case they called the most disturbing gang-related killing they have seen in the county.

Ten defendants have pleaded guilty in the Jan. 18, 2009, death of Dennys Guzman-Saenz, 15, who was abducted from a Langley Park bus stop, dragged into a car, stabbed more than 60 times and dumped into an icy creek in Gaithersburg. The assailants, all members of the 18th Street gang, kidnapped Guzman-Saenz because they thought he belonged to a rival gang, police and prosecutors said.

"That was the sole reason. It mirrors your worst fears about gang violence," Montgomery State's Attorney John McCarthy said Monday.

The attackers stabbed Guzman-Saenz while he was in the car, prosecutors said in court. At the creek, more people came out of a second car, and the assault continued. As many as nine people took turns stabbing him with at least two knives, one with a 12-inch blade. Guzman-Saenz, who was 5-9 and weighed 130 pounds, suffered wounds that extended through his torso and punctured the other side.

On Monday, Ysaud Flores, 31, admitted to driving one of the cars used in the killing.

Immediately after the stabbing, another of the suspects went to a grocery store to buy a celebratory beer, police said in charging documents. Detectives were able to link Guzman-Saenz's DNA to samples taken from a knife, a knife sheath and the ceiling of Flores's Honda Accord, according to prosecutors.

Of the 11 suspects arrested -- eight men and three women -- six have pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, one pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, two pleaded guilty to participating in gang activity resulting in murder and one pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact, according to court records. The 11th defendant, Daniel A. Zavala, is scheduled to plead guilty to first-degree murder Thursday.

The victim was not a gang member, police said. He was trying to take a bus to a friend's house when he was killed, authorities said.

The attack came as overall gang crime in Montgomery has trended down, according to police statistics.

In the first quarter of this year, police recorded 54 gang-related crimes, compared with 92 for the same period a year earlier. In 2009, Montgomery police recorded 285 gang-related crimes, compared with 442 in 2008 and 507 in 2007. Violent crimes also are down. In 2009, police reported 56 gang-related assaults and 33 gang-related robberies, compared with 60 and 50 the year before.

Prosecutors say the 18th Street gang members in the creek case had ties to 18th Street members in New Jersey and Central America.

On Monday, prosecutors acknowledged that Flores did not stab the victim but said he drove the assailants to and from the kidnapping and at one point used a cellphone to help summon people to the gathering.

Until several weeks before the killing, Flores was the leader of a gang with members in Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District, according to court documents. He was supplanted by another member but on Jan. 18, 2009, attended a meeting of the group at a residence in Germantown.

At some point, five of those at the meeting, including Flores, got into his blue Honda and drove to Langley Park, just across the border in Prince George's County, Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey Wennar said in court Monday.

Authorities said they were looking for a member of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, gang. They drove near a man, but he walked into a building, Wennar said. They spotted Guzman-Saenz at the bus stop and grabbed him, Wennar said. As they drove him through Montgomery, Flores played a CD of music in Spanish that translated to "Flowers for the Dead," Wennar said.

Immigration officials have placed a detainer on Flores, Montgomery jail officials said Monday, meaning that he could be in the country illegally.

At the park, Flores and another suspect did not go to the creek area, as nine others did, prosecutors said. Flores's attorney, Thomas Tamm, said his client didn't play as active a role as others. "It was not my client's idea to kidnap" the victim, Tamm said. "My client never stabbed the young boy who was killed that day."

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