Videos of

JUDGE HANDS DOWN 33-YEAR SEN­TENCE Leader’s slay­ing led to tor­ture, in­ter­ro­ga­tion

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUSTIN JOUVENAL

the fi­nal mo­ments of a 15-year-old girl killed by MS-13 as­so­ciates be­came un­bear­able for her mother dur­ing a mur­der trial.

Maria Reyes snapped her eyes shut as mon­i­tors in the Fair­fax County court­room lit up. Not only had the MS-13 at­tack­ers taken her daugh­ter’s life, they also had filmed her fi­nal, ag­o­niz­ing min­utes.

Now the clips were the cen­tral piece of ev­i­dence in a mur­der trial in the death of 15-year-old Damaris A. Reyes Ri­vas, a high­pro­file case that helped pro­pel MS-13 to a top is­sue in the Vir­ginia gov­er­nor’s race.

Damaris ap­peared on the screens with chubby cheeks, stonewashed jeans and a black T-shirt that read “‘Ello Dar­ling.” She looked young, like a girl ready for the mall.

But she was in snow-dusted woods in Spring­field on a brilliant Jan­uary day, sur­rounded by taunt­ing as­so­ciates of MS-13. One omi­nously clicked a cigar cut­ter while the girl was told in Span­ish that she might lose a finger. They warned Damaris that they had a ri­fle and gas.

They shouted at her, de­mand­ing in­for­ma­tion about her role in the slay­ing of their clique leader, Chris­tian Sosa Ri­vas, who was set up and killed with ma­chetes, tree limbs and rocks in Prince

Wil­liam County about a week ear­lier. They blamed Damaris for lur­ing him to his death.

Then the screen faded to black. Tears rolled down the cheeks of Maria Reyes.

She would have to en­dure more hor­rific clips be­fore a jury re­turned a ver­dict of guilty of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der Tues­day against Wilmer A. Sanchez Ser­rano, 22, one of 10 young peo­ple charged in con­nec­tion with Damaris’s tor­ture and killing.

The jury sen­tenced him to 33 years in prison. A judge will is­sue a fi­nal sen­tence March 23.

The videos are one of the most chill­ing tes­ta­ments to date of the resur­gence of MS-13, a gang whose bru­tal­ity has claimed dozens of lives in the Wash­ing­ton area and up and down the East Coast in re­cent years.

The cru­elty on dis­play on the screens stunned the court­room into si­lence and forced a griev­ing mother to ex­pe­ri­ence her loss all over again.

Maria Reyes had brought Damaris to the United States from El Sal­vador at age 12 to escape MS-13, which men­aces the coun­try. But the girl had left their Gaithers­burg home in mid-De­cem­ber and fallen in with mem­bers of the same gang.

Prose­cu­tors said that Damaris was lured to Lake Ac­cotink Park in Spring­field on Jan. 8. There, she was met by Sanchez Ser­rano, then 21, and nine mem­bers of MS-13. The youngest were 15.

Prose­cu­tors said the group beat and kicked Damaris while in­ter­ro­gat­ing her about Sosa Ri­vas’s slay­ing. They moved her around the park on a bit­terly cold day over a cou­ple of hours.

Sanchez Ser­rano tes­ti­fied in his own de­fense, ad­mit­ting his role in the killing but say­ing he was tricked into go­ing to the park and was not a mem­ber of MS-13.

He said he was threat­ened with death if he did not par­tic­i­pate in Damaris’s killing.

“If I did that, it’s be­cause they made me,” Sanchez Ser­rano said through an in­ter­preter dur­ing his tes­ti­mony.

Three other de­fen­dants were con­victed in Oc­to­ber of their role in Damaris’s killing. A hand­ful of oth­ers are await­ing trial or plea hear­ings.

The sec­ond video be­gins a short while af­ter the first. Damaris, wear­ing nei­ther a shirt nor shoes in the woods, is seen shiv­er­ing vi­o­lently.

Prose­cu­tors said the gang forced the girl to strip be­cause they wanted her to feel the same chill Sosa Ri­vas felt the day he was killed and dumped in an icy Po­tomac River.

Venus Romero Ira­heta, 17, who is charged with mur­der in the case, is seen wield­ing a large hunt­ing knife.

“What the f---!” some­one shouts off-cam­era in Span­ish. “Just stick the steel in her.”

But the tor­ture would not end so quickly.

Prose­cu­tors said Damaris was taken to a fi­nal lo­ca­tion nearby, ad­ja­cent to a Belt­way over­pass. Ira­heta, who dated Sosa Ri­vas, then con­fronted Damaris one last time, an FBI agent tes­ti­fied at an ear­lier hear­ing. Af­ter Damaris ad­mit­ted that she had a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with Sosa Ri­vas, Ira­heta grew en­raged.

Ira­heta listed her full name so Damaris would know the name of her killer and then “told the vic­tim she would never for­give her and would see her in hell,” the agent tes­ti­fied.

Ira­heta then al­legedly plunged the knife into Damaris’s ab­domen and neck, again and again.

As prose­cu­tors pre­pared to play the third clip, which was taken af­ter the stab­bing, Maria Reyes cringed as if ex­pect­ing a blow. The video lasted just sec­onds, but it showed Damaris on her back among the leaves, with blood on a hand and her fore­head.

Sanchez Ser­rano en­ters the frame with a large tree branch and plunges it into Damaris’s neck re­peat­edly. Af­ter the clip ended, Maria Reyes’s head fell to one side as she was over­come by grief. She clutched a tis­sue in one hand and wept.

De­spite the ob­vi­ous weight of her loss, Maria Reyes rose on the fi­nal day of the trial and took the wit­ness stand. The mother said Damaris was smi­ley and in­tel­li­gent.

She played a video of her daugh­ter blow­ing out can­dles on a cake, as if to make that the last­ing im­age of the teen, not the ghoul­ish record­ings of her mur­der. She ex­plained how she buried Damaris in the quinceañera dress she never got to wear.

“My girl has suf­fered so much. I still suf­fer so much,” she tes­ti­fied through a Span­ish in­ter­preter.

“Some­times I see other girls on the street. I see them from be­hind and it seems like I’m see­ing her, but they turn around and it’s not her. I wish I could touch her. I wish I could hug her.”

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