Earlier this year, a prosecutor said yesterday, members of the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang gathered at a secret location in Fairfax County to cast a vote: Should they kill fellow member Jose "Snoop" Escobar? The hands went up.

The vote to kill Escobar came after gang leaders in Los Angeles approved the execution -- or "greenlighted" him -- saying he had helped immigration agents deport a Northern Virginia gang leader so Escobar could ascend the ranks, Prince William County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney William Jarvis said.

"The whole idea of a green light and a meeting to agree on [whether to kill another member], that's all new stuff to Northern Virginia," Jarvis said.

New details about the Aug. 11 slaying of Escobar, 22, at a Prince William townhouse emerged yesterday after a court hearing at which murder and weapons charges were dropped against one of four suspects. The prosecution's key witness, fearing retaliation against his family in El Salvador, recanted his earlier statements to police about Reynaldo Alexander Cordova's role in the slaying, Jarvis said.

In an interview after yesterday's hearing, the prosecutor said Cordova, 21, of Falls Church, could be indicted next month because "potentially other witnesses could come forward and re-implicate him." Police said in court documents that Cordova helped block the front door of the home.

Escobar, a construction worker, was killed at a gang "safe house" just outside Manassas in the 8100 block of Community Drive, police said. Four gang members came looking for him that August night, spread throughout the house and then blocked the exits so he could not escape. Police said Escobar was shot in the chest by Wilfredo Montoya-Baires, 25, who has been charged with murder and is being held without bond.

After he was shot, Escobar was then cut along his neck, chest and left arm, Jarvis said. He was still alive when police and paramedics arrived but died later that night at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Escobar apparently knew he had been targeted to be killed but did not take the threat seriously, Jarvis said. The victim received at least two messages that he had been greenlighted but did not hide or flee because other members who had received similar threats weren't killed, the prosecutor said.

Immigration officials had a detainer to deport the prosecution witness, Raul Escobar, back to El Salvador, Jarvis said. Had Raul Escobar -- the victim's uncle and a former MS-13 member -- testified, he could have obtained a protected status visa, he said.

The witness is credible, Jarvis said, because "what he tells us is corroborated by other evidence that we're not prepare to bring forward now."

Through a translator, Raul Escobar testified yesterday at General District Court that "he didn't see exactly what happened" and that he "heard two people were arguing" and shots being fired. When Jarvis asked him if he remembered telling a Prince William detective that Cordova was present during the slaying, he said: "They want to deport me. If I go back to my country, I'll be killed. . . . I wasn't right in the head [when being interviewed by the detective]. I was very scared for what happened to my nephew."

Jarvis said that Raul Escobar's fear of testifying about his statements to police was fueled when his relatives in Northern Virginia told him that his parents in El Salvador had received threats this month about his pending court appearance.

"He was getting colder and colder feet as we were going. He didn't 100 percent trust us that we could prevent him from being deported," Jarvis said.