An 18-year-old woman was convicted of murder Monday for stabbing a teenage girl just after vowing to see her in hell, a brutal attack carried out with other MS-13 members and associates in Fairfax County in January 2017.
Venus Romero Iraheta, who was 17 at the time of the killing, pleaded guilty as an adult in Fairfax County Circuit Court in the slaying of Damaris A. Reyes Rivas, 15, of Gaithersburg. Iraheta faces up to life in prison when she is sentenced on May 25.
Iraheta, of Alexandria, Va., was a main player in the torture and killing, which generated national headlines and came to symbolize the resurgence of MS-13 in the D.C. region after years of relative dormancy. In court, she wore a green jail jumpsuit and spoke only to answer a judge's questions.
Iraheta was one of 10 MS-13 members and associates who met Damaris at Springfield's Lake Accotink Park on Jan. 8, 2017, after the girl was tricked into going there by one in the group.
The gang members blamed Damaris for luring the leader of their local clique, Christian Sosa Rivas, to his own vicious killing about a week earlier in Prince William County and wanted to exact revenge, prosecutors said. The gang captured the brutality that followed in cellphone videos.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh played the videos in court Monday, saying he wanted to make clear for the judge the depravity involved in the horrific murder of the high school girl.
Damaris's mother, who was in the courtroom, bowed her head and cried as the videos played. Even Iraheta appeared to cry at one point, dabbing a tissue at her eyes.
"Some kids are prodigies at the violin and some kids are prodigies at violence," Morrogh said after the hearing. "This is a prodigy at violence."
Morrogh said the incident began when Damaris arrived at the park and a handful of the gang members took her into the woods. Morrogh said Iraheta hit Damaris in the face, cutting her, and then knocked her to the ground.
Iraheta told Damaris that she had to die, Morrogh said, and that it would be carried out the same way as the killing of Sosa Rivas, who was attacked with machetes and rocks before being dumped into the Potomac River on New Year's Eve 2016. Iraheta had dated Sosa Rivas.
The first video shows Damaris in the Springfield, Va., woods, being interrogated by the gang members and associates, all of whom were then between the ages of 15 and 21 . They shout at her in Spanish as she gets up from the snow-dusted ground.
At one point, one MS-13 member ominously clicks a cigar cutter and another tells Damaris she could lose a finger, before the screen fades to black.
Morrogh said Damaris was made to take off her shoes and shirt, so that she could feel the chill Sosa Rivas felt, and then was walked to another part of the park. A video taken there shows a shoeless and shirtless Damaris shaking violently on the 21 degree day.
Iraheta is seen wielding a large hunting knife, before someone shouts off camera in Spanish: "What the f---! Just stick the steel in her."
But Damaris would not die then.
Instead, gang members walked her out of the woods and back to a car, Morrogh said. One gang member even slung his arm around Damaris, so that it would appear like they were boyfriend and girlfriend and not raise the suspicions of others in the park.
Once in the car, the gang members played "MS-13 music," Morrogh said, and Iraheta again told Damaris she was going to be killed. The gang members drove to a nearby a Beltway overpass and train tracks.
They once again took Damaris into the woods, after forcing her to crawl through a 3-foot tunnel covered in MS-13 graffiti.
Morrogh said all the gang members and associates charged in the case kicked and punched Damaris, before some peeled away. Eventually, Iraheta climbed on top of Damaris, who was on the ground, and asked her if she had slept with Sosa Rivas. Morrogh said Damaris admitted that she did and asked for forgiveness.
None would come.
Iraheta sliced a tattoo off Damaris's hand that Sosa Rivas had gotten for her, Morrogh said. Iraheta later told investigators she did not feel bad about what happened next and described how she told Damaris to remember her face.
"I told her 'I'm not going to forgive you and you'll remember me till the day I see you in f---ing hell,'" Morrogh said Iraheta told investigators.
Iraheta stabbed Damaris repeatedly in the abdomen, chest and back. Another gang member jabbed her with a stick, before the third and final video taken while Damaris was alive begins.
Damaris is seen prone on her back amid dead leaves, with blood on one hand and forehead. A section of tree trunk is shoved against her head and blood trickles onto the leaves near her abdomen.
An alleged gang member, Wilmer A. Sanchez-Serrano, enters the frame and jams a large stick into Damaris's neck again and again, before the video abruptly ends. Sanchez-Serrano was convicted of murder in November.
The gang members left Damaris for dead, and Morrogh said the girl probably lived 20 more minutes. Morrogh said she was stabbed 23 times and suffered trauma to the head.
Later that night, some of the gang members returned, took a brief video of Damaris's body and dragged it underneath the Beltway overpass, Morrogh said. They placed her face down in a puddle of water and piled railroad ties on her back.
Morrogh said the gruesome videos were taken so some of the MS-13 members could send them back to El Salvador to earn a promotion within the gang, which requires violence to move up the ranks.
The end was precisely the opposite of what Damaris's mother had hoped for her daughter when she brought Damaris to the United States from El Salvador at age 12 to escape the gang. But Maria Reyes said her daughter became involved with MS-13 here and disappeared from home in December 2016.
To date, seven of the 10 gang members and associates charged in the case have been convicted of crimes, including murder, related to Damaris's killing.