Courts

Seven Alleged MS-13 Members Charged Over Double Murder in U.S. Penitentiary in Texas

MS-13 was founded by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s.
MS-13 was founded by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s. Walking the Tracks, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
A federal grand jury in East Texas has returned a 15-count indictment against seven alleged MS-13 members accused of carrying out a double murder in a penitentiary in late January, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The seven men allegedly planned and committed an attack on members of the Mexican Mafia and the Sureños in the U.S. Penitentiary Beaumont on Jan. 31.

The defendants include Juan Carlos Rivas-Moreiera, Dimas Alfaro-Granado, Raul Landaverde-Giron, Larry Navarete, Jorge Parada, Hector Ramires and Sergio Sibrian. Five are from El Salvador, while one is from Honduras and another from Nicaragua. All are currently in lockup.

That violence resulted in two murders, two more attempted murders and a nationwide lockdown of everyone incarcerated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the DOJ in East Texas said  in a press release on Thursday.

“Deterring prison violence remains a priority for the Department,” Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston said in the statement.

The attack lasted only three minutes, but according to a press release and court documents, that was all it took for the MS-13 members to fatally stab Guillermo Riojas twice in the chest as well as beat and stab Andrew Pineda some 45 times. Both Riojas and Pineda later died.

Two more men allegedly belonging to the Sureños gang, neither of whom are named in the indictment, were stabbed but survived.

“Even while incarcerated, MS-13 members remain committed to the organization’s violent ideology and as alleged in this indictment, continue to engage in extreme acts of murder and attempted murder,” Joint Task Force Vulcan Director John J. Durham said in Thursday’s news release.

MS-13 can be traced back to Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s, but the gang reportedly has as many as 70,000 members around the world. U.S. authorities estimate that some 10,000 MS-13 members are held in American prisons.

On March 27, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele imposed a state of emergency in that country after gang violence left at least 87 people dead. Blaming the violence on MS-13, Bukele ordered Salvadoran authorities to round up some 6,000 people.

This week, The Guardian reported that men, women and children were among those rounded up and that they could be held for up to 15 days rather than the usual three days. Rights groups and some detainees’ relatives say the crackdown has included arrests of ordinary people who live in neighborhoods where the gangs operate.

In a federal trial in New York, jurors are currently deciding the fate of Leniz Escobar, a 22-year-old woman accused of luring four men to a Long Island park where MS-13 members hacked them to death.

Although former President Donald Trump and Republicans around the country frequently cite MS-13 as a reason to clamp down on the border, experts doubt harsh immigration policies could effectively harm the gang and say MS-13 acolytes account for only a small fraction of the estimated 1.4 million gang members around the country. 
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Patrick Strickland is the former news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's worked as a senior reporter at Al Jazeera English. His reporting has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.

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