Woman is sen­tenced to 40 years in prison for MS-13 mur­der

Vic­tim’s mother to killer: ‘She’s in heaven. . . . Hell will be lived by you.’

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY JUSTIN JOU­VE­NAL

For the ninth time, Maria Reyes slipped into the wit­ness stand in a Fair­fax County court­room to con­front one of the MS-13 as­so­ci­ates who ab­ducted her 15-year-old daugh­ter, bru­tally tor­tured her, then left her bro­ken body face down in a pud­dle.

Reyes stared un­flinch­ing at Venus Romero Ira­heta, 18, a few feet away, at her sen­tenc­ing hear­ing Fri­day. Ira­heta had or­ches­trated the killing of Da­maris Reyes Ri­vas, telling the Gaithers­burg teen she would see her in hell be­fore plung­ing a hunt­ing knife into her re­peat­edly in Jan­uary 2017.

The mother wiped away tears with bub­ble gum pink nails as she de­scribed the 18-hour days she worked to bring Da­maris to the United States from El Sal­vador, the joy of re­unit­ing with her and the dev­as­ta­tion of bury­ing her in her quinceañara dress.

Fi­nally, she told a pros­e­cu­tor she had one fi­nal mes­sage.

“I want to say to this young lady that she de­stroyed my life. She de­stroyed the life of my daugh­ter. She didn’t owe any­thing to you,” Reyes said through an in­ter­preter. “My daugh­ter is not in hell, as she said. She’s in heaven. She has shown me that in my dreams. . . . Hell will be lived by you, not by her.”

Soon af­ter, a judge im­posed a sen­tence of 40 years in prison on Ira­heta, the most high-pro­file de­fen­dant in a slay­ing so hor­rific it drew na­tional at­ten­tion and was used by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to grimly high­light the resur­gence of MS-13 in the Wash­ing­ton area and be­yond.

Ten as­so­ci­ates of MS-13 have been con­victed of the vi­cious at­tack in wooded areas of Spring­field. Da­maris’s har­row­ing fi­nal min­utes were cap­tured in cell­phone videos that were dis­cov­ered by po­lice.

Ira­heta, whose body shook with grief through much of the hear­ing, tes­ti­fied that she was re­morse­ful for what she had done. When asked by her at­tor­ney to re­spond to what Reyes said about her go­ing to hell, Ira­heta said sim­ply: “She’s prob­a­bly right.”

“I know I have made the worst mis­take of my life,” Ira­heta said. “At night, while I’m sleep­ing I will wake up with th­ese mem­o­ries. They will come to me full force. I wish I could push them away.”

But Fair­fax County Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney Ray­mond F. Mor­rogh called Ira­heta’s con­tri­tion “croc­o­dile tears.”

“You let that child’s body lie out in the open win­ter air for a month,” Mor­rogh told her.

Da­maris’s slay­ing played out on the frigid af­ter­noon of Jan. 8, 2017. Ira­heta blamed Da­maris for help­ing lure her boyfriend, Chris­tian Sosa Ri­vas, an MS-13 as­so­ciate, to his death roughly a week ear­lier.

Sosa Ri­vas, who claimed he was the leader of the gang’s Har­ri­son clique, was killed by other MS-13 mem­bers, pos­si­bly be­cause they thought he was falsely claim­ing his ti­tle. Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors are pur­su­ing a sep­a­rate case in that slay­ing.

Da­maris was lured to Lake Ac­cotink Park in Spring­field un­der the pre­tense of smok­ing mar­i­juana. When she ar­rived, 10 MS-13 as­so­ci­ates be­tween the ages of 15 and 21 walked her into the woods and be­gan in­ter­ro­gat­ing her about the killing of Sosa Ri­vas.

The ghoul­ish cell­phone videos, which were played fol­low­ing Ira­heta’s plea hear­ing, cap­tured the mo­ment. The MS-13 as­so­ci­ates stalk around Da­maris, who stands in the snow-cov­ered woods, and yell at her in Span­ish. One clicks a ci­gar cut­ter and tells her she could lose a fin­ger, be­fore the video ends.

A sec­ond video picks up af­ter Da­maris was walked to a sec­ond lo­ca­tion. She is shiv­er­ing in the woods with no shirt or shoes in the 21-de­gree weather. The MS-13 as­so­ci­ates wanted Da­maris to feel the same cold Sosa Ri­vas felt when his body was dumped in an icy Po­tomac River.

Ira­heta is seen wield­ing the hunt­ing knife, be­fore some­one off cam­era shouts in Span­ish: “Just stick the steel in her.” But the or­deal would not end. The group re­turned Da­maris to a car and drove her to a nearby lo­ca­tion, where a Belt­way over­pass vaults over some train tracks, pros­e­cu­tors said at Ira­heta’s plea hear­ing. MS-13 graf­fiti still marks the pil­ings and un­der­side of the bridge.

Some of the gang mem­bers peeled away, while oth­ers punched and kicked Da­maris. Af­ter a while, Ira­heta climbed on top of Da­maris and asked her if she had slept with Sosa Ri­vas, pros­e­cu­tors said. Da­maris ad­mit­ted she had and asked for for­give­ness, but pros­e­cu­tors said Ira­heta flew into a rage.

Ira­heta later told Fair­fax County de­tec­tives and an FBI agent that she did not feel bad about what hap­pened next. The in­ter­ro­ga­tion was video­taped, and the FBI agent trans­lated what Ira­heta told them.

“‘ You’re go­ing to re­mem­ber me un­til the day we see each other in hell,’ ” Ira­heta said she told Da­maris. “‘Don’t for­get my name,’ and I told her my full name. ... I told her to never for­get who I was.”

A Fair­fax County de­tec­tive then asked what hap­pened next. Ira­heta replied in English: “I killed her.”

The FBI agent tes­ti­fied at a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing that Ira­heta sliced a tat­too off Da­maris and plunged the knife into her 13 times. As Da­maris lay on the ground, an­other MS-13 mem­ber stabbed her with a large tree branch.

A third video picks up soon af­ter. Da­maris is seen ly­ing on her back amid dead leaves on the floor of the woods. Blood trick­les onto the leaves from her ab­domen and is smeared on her fore­head.

An­other MS-13 as­so­ciate en­ters the frame and jabs a bloody stick into her neck again and again, be­fore the video abruptly ends. Pros­e­cu­tors said Da­maris was left to die and slowly ex­pired over about 20 min­utes.

Some MS-13 as­so­ci­ates re­turned to the scene later that night and dumped Da­maris’s body face­down in a pud­dle of wa­ter be­neath the over­pass. She was dis­cov­ered there about a month later by po­lice.

Po­lice in Prince Wil­liam County dis­cov­ered the videos of Da­maris’s killing while in­ves­ti­gat­ing Sosa Ri­vas’s death. The MS-13 as­so­ci­ates were ar­rested and con­victed on var­i­ous charges, in­clud­ing first-de­gree mur­der, gang par­tic­i­pa­tion and ab­duc­tion.

The path that brought Da­maris and Ira­heta to the Spring­field woods was a wind­ing one. It il­lus­trates the dan­gers of grow­ing up in a coun­try with one of the world’s high­est mur­der rates and the chal­lenges tens of thou­sands of Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren have faced af­ter flee­ing to the United States in re­cent years.

Da­maris and Ira­heta grew up a few miles from each other in San Vin­cente, El Sal­vador. Ira­heta’s at­tor­ney said in court she was kid­napped at 14 and re­peat­edly raped over the course of sev­eral weeks. Her fa­ther was abu­sive and an al­co­holic.

Da­maris, who had spent nine years away from her mom be­fore com­ing to the United States, faced trou­ble ad­just­ing here and fell in with gang mem­bers.

The moth­ers of both were in the court­room and cried through­out the hear­ing.

Ira­heta said she once dreamed of be­ing an at­tor­ney, but that hope is gone.

“I didn’t just kill Da­maris,” Ira­heta told the judge, “I killed a part of my­self that day.”

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