The man charged in the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old Park View High School student near a Sterling bus stop in 2015 pleaded guilty this morning in Loudoun County Circuit Court. Under the terms of a plea agreement he will spend at least 22 years in prison.
Jose Miguel Espinosa De Dios, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, entered Alford pleas of guilty to first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony before Judge Stephen E. Sincavage. The Alford plea permits the defendant to maintain a claim of innocence while acknowledging prosecutors have enough evidence to obtain a conviction.
Espinosa de Dios is accused of gunning down Danny Centeno-Miranda as he walked to the school bus stop on the morning of Sept. 4, 2015. According to testimony in prior hearings, he was a MS-13 gang member known as “the Mexican” or “the enforcer” in Sterling. He allegedly shot Centeno-Miranda twice in the back. Centeno-Miranda was transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he died.
Espinosa de Dios’ case had been set for a 10-day jury trial starting June 19. His next court appearance will be a final sentencing hearing, which has not been scheduled.
Espinosa de Dios faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison on the first-degree murder conviction and a mandatory three-year sentence on the conviction of use of a firearm during the commission of a felony. As part of the plea agreement entered Wednesday, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office agreed to drop prosecution of two other charges—shooting in the commission of a felony and gang participation.
Additionally, county prosecutors agreed that Espinosa de Dios should be sentenced within the parameters of the state’s sentencing guidelines. That report, presented to Sincavage during the hearing calls for a maximum active sentence of 38 years and seven months in prison, with a minimum of 23 years and two months.
Among the evidence in the case were witness accounts of a young male shooter firing multiple gunshots at the victim as he walked from his home to a nearby school bus stop.
Espinosa De Dios was identified as a suspect later the same day, and law enforcement executed a search warrant on the home where Espinosa De Dios was located. The gun used to shoot the victim was found in the freezer of the home.
Espinosa De Dios initially denied involvement in the shooting, but later admitted to shooting the victim. According to evidence at prior hearings, the gun was provided to him a week earlier with instructions from gang leaders in El Salvador to kill Centeno-Miranda because he had quit MS-13 and joined the rival 18th Street gang.
Two others were charged in the case.
Henry Ernesto Dominguez-Vazquez pleaded guilty last fall to a charge of accessory to murder after the fact. The charge was reduced by prosecutors from a felony to a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
A charge of accessory to murder against a third suspect, Dominguez-Vazquez’s brother Juan Moiser Aguirre Zelaya, was dropped last spring.