Elmer Andrade's defense attorney told the judge about to sentence him for grand larceny that her client accepts "full responsibility for his actions." She also asked that he be sentenced to the time he's already served in jail (four months) since his arrest.
But Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ian Rodway said Andrade was the oldest of five teens who jumped a Chantilly boy and stole his money. Said Rodway: "This is an act where there is more strength in numbers, and that's what makes this [crime] so reprehensible."
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David Stitt agreed and sentenced Andrade, 19, of 3041 Patrick Henry Drive in Falls Church, to six months in jail — tacking on two months to the four he's already logged behind bars since August.
The incident occurred Aug. 13, between midnight and 12:30 a.m., when a 16-year-old Chantilly boy left a trailer on United Drive in the Chantilly Meadows community. He'd been housesitting for a neighbor and was walking across a parking area on Airline Parkway to see his girlfriend when he was brutally attacked by five Hispanic teens.
They yelled "MS 13" at him — short for Mara Salvatrucha, the name of a local gang in Fairfax County. One of them, Romulo Mendoza, 18 — who's already been convicted of the same crime — punched the victim in the face and broke his nose. Knocked to the ground, the boy was also kicked several times.
Then, while lying on the ground, he felt someone reach into his back pocket and take his wallet. He got it back, minus the $115-$130 he'd had in it — including a $100 bill for some work he'd recently done. Later, Andrade told police he spent $12 or $13 of that money on gas and cigarettes, but he still had the $100 bill when he was apprehended. And Andrade admitted to police that the money was "from the boy in Chantilly."
After the attack, the assailants fled in a white Toyota station wagon. But the victim knew two of them, so he was able to call police, describe the getaway car and report that his attackers usually hang out in the Falls Church area. Police responded and spotted the car on Arlington Boulevard near the Seven Corners Shopping Center.
The victim identified all five suspects — Andrade, Mendoza and three 16-year-olds, all of Falls Church — and police arrested them all, charging each with robbery. Andrade told authorities that there was bad blood between them and the victim and that they all participated in the assault.
Responding through a Spanish-language interpreter, on Oct. 29 in Circuit Court, Andrade pleaded guilty. He returned Dec. 6 for sentencing, and his defense attorney, Lavonda Graham, spoke on his behalf. She said he cooperated with the police and admitted his and the others' involvement in the crime. "This information helped police obtain convictions against them," she said.
She noted that, while in jail, "He realized his affiliation with negative influences in his community contributed to his feelings of low self-worth. He sought the services of Barrios Unidos of Northern Virginia — a grassroots group that counsels and provides services to ex-members of affiliated groups [gangs]."
Graham also told Judge Stitt that "the support of his mother — present [in the courtroom] today — will help in his progress toward a positive life style. He's ready to move forward with a new life."
But Rodway said Andrade was "really not all that cooperative" with the police, after his arrest. "He initially denied committing a robbery and gave the detective an alibi, saying he was in Maryland [at the time]," said Rodway. Although he later admitted the truth, Rodway stressed that "this defendant and all but two of the five [assailants] were all members of a gang — MS 13."
Then Andrade — who's only completed school through the sixth grade — stood and, again through an interpreter, addressed the court. "I know I made a mistake but, with God's help and my mother's help, I will change," he said. "I'll work during the day and study at night."
The judge then pronounced sentence but, first, he told the teen-ager how fortunate he was to have his family's support. Said Stitt: "Mr. Andrade, you're lucky your mother still cares enough about you to be here today and to write a letter on your behalf."
He then sentenced the young man to three years in prison, suspending two years and six months of that time. He also placed Andrade on two years probation, adding that, "The suspended time is conditioned on your general good behavior, your getting substance-abuse treatment as directed by your probation officer and your maintaining full-time employment."
As for Mendoza, he appeared Nov. 20 in Circuit Court before Judge Dennis Smith. He was found guilty and is to be sentenced on Feb. 21.