Feds to seek death penalty in Virginia gang killings

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ALEXANDRIA, Va, (AP) — Federal prosecutors will pursue a death sentence against a northern Virginia gang leader accused of killing two teenagers.

The U.S. attorney in Alexandria, G. Zachary Terwilliger, filed papers Monday indicating the government's intent to seek the death penalty against 29-year-old Elmer Zelaya Martinez.

Prosecutors say Zelaya Martinez was a leader in the MS-13 street gang who helped coordinate the 2016 stabbing deaths of 17-year-old Edvin Escobar Mendez and 14-year-old Sergio Arita Triminio.

According to the indictment, Zelaya Martinez and other MS-13 members killed Escobar Martinez because they believed he was spying for a rival gang. Arita Triminio was killed because gang members thought he was cooperating with law enforcement.

Their bodies were found in a Falls Church Park in 2017.

Robert Jenkins, one of Zelaya Martinez's lawyers, criticized the decision to pursue the death penalty as politically motivated. He said that while the allegations are serious, they are no more serious than many other cases in which the death penalty was not considered.

“It fits nicely into President Trump's rhetoric concerning illegal immigration,” Jenkins said.

Zelaya Martinez is one of 11 people charged in the slayings; all are natives of El Salvador. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said detainers have been lodged against all 11 defendants.

The other 10 will not face the death penalty.

Prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia last filed notice of intent to pursue the death penalty in 2012.

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