A gang initiation that left one young man dead and another permanently scarred will keep three El Salvadorian teens behind bars for the next four decades.
On Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Benjamin N.A. Kendrick sentenced the third MS-13 member convicted of participating in the Nov. 4, 2016, attack in the woods behind an Ashburn apartment complex to serve 40 years in state prison.
Jose Otonniel Chicas Guevara, 18, pleaded no contest to 10 charges in the case. Kendrick imposed sentences totaling 270 years, including 80 years each on charges of murder and aggravated malicious wounding. He suspended 40 years of those sentences and allowed all of the sentences to be served concurrently, resulting in the 40-year term.
In court Aug. 15, Chicas Guevara, who was brought to the U.S. by his father when he was 15 years old, was described as a youth who had adjusted well to school in Herndon and was active in sports and his church. Then he met a girl. And then girl’s male friends sucked him into gang life. Then “Chucky,” as he was called in gang circles, joined two other teens—Jordy Jose Bonilla and Oscar Fabricio Lopez Nieto—and stabbed 22-year-old Guillermo Piedra-Espinoza to death and severely wounded another victim.
According to interviews conducted by investigators, Bonilla, who was new to the gang, was ordered to kill someone and targeted Piedra-Espinoza because he was a member of the rival 18th Street gang. Bonilla invited the victims to party with some girls at a secluded party spot behind the Ashburn Meadows apartments. But when Bonilla left to bring the girls in, he returned with Lopez Nieto, Chicas Guevara—and a kitchen-style meat cleaver. The three jumped Piedra-Espinoza and stabbed him and chased and stabbed the other victim. Piedra-Espinoza’s body was left in a nearby creek.
“I never thought I was going to do something like that,” Chicas Guevara said, speaking through an interpreter during the sentencing hearing. “When I think about that I just ask God for forgiveness. I think about [the victims] a lot.”
His attorney, Thomas S. Rock, asked the judge to sentence Chicas Guevara to the lower end of the penalty range laid out in the state’s sentencing guidelines, about 30 years.
While his client had taken responsibility for his actions, Rock said Chicas Guevara was a victim, as well. “It’s sad, but we see MS-13 do this over and over again,” the attorney said of the gang’s efforts to recruit impressionable young people by giving them a feeling of belonging and protection.
“To be completely honest, I don’t know how he is going to survive in prison,” Rock said.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Angela Vernail did not press the judge to hand down the maximum sentence that would be permitted under the plea agreement in the case, 48 years. She said that Chicas Guevara appeared to be the least culpable of the three attackers. But she said it was important to clamp down on MS-13, which she described as a domestic terrorist organization that is “pure evil.”
Earlier his year, Bonilla was sentenced to serve 43 years in prison and, on Monday, Lopez Nieto was sentenced to 48 years.