Uncle Testifies in Murder Case

Uncle Testifies in Murder Case

Wilfredo Montoya-Baires, 25, is charged with killing a fellow gang member.

In early August, Raul Escobar had little choice but to stand by and watch as a mob of his fellow gang members shot and stabbed to death his 22-year-old nephew, Jose "Snoop" Escobar, in a townhouse just outside Manassas.

Now, Raul Escobar, a former member of the MS-13 street gang, is testifying against his nephew's three alleged killers, including Wilfredo Montoya-Baires, a 25-year-old construction worker living in Reston, who is accused of pulling the trigger.

By testifying against members of his former gang, Prince William County prosecutors said, Raul Escobar is putting his own life on the line, as well as the lives of his family members living in El Salvador.

"I want justice to be done for my dead nephew," said Raul Escobar, testifying against Montoya-Baires last Wednesday in Manassas at a preliminary hearing. "He was like my younger brother. He used to hang around with me. He used to only speak with me. We were like brothers."

LATE IN THE AFTERNOON on Wednesday, Aug. 11, Raul and Jose Escobar stopped by an MS-13 "safe house," located in 8100 block of Community Drive in Manassas Park, to drink beer and chat with another gang member, Carlos "Puma" Avalos.

After hanging out at the townhouse for approximately an hour, four other MS-13 members entered the house, armed with large knives and guns.

Two of the gang members wielding knives blocked the exits, trapping Raul and Jose Escobar in the living room.

Raul Escobar asked what was happening, but was told to keep quiet and he would not be harmed.

Montoya-Baires then allegedly pointed his handgun at Jose Escobar, and accused him of cooperating with federal agents to deport a top MS-13 leader operating in Northern Virginia.

"They didn't want to say anything to me," Raul Escobar testified, speaking through a translator. "They just said my nephew was a rat. A snitch."

Investigators believe Montoya-Baires then shot Jose Escobar in the chest. As he lay bleeding on the ground, the knife-wielding gang members then cut his throat and stabbed him repeatedly.

MONTOYA-BAIRES was arrested the following day and charged with first-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Reynaldo Alexander Cordova, 21, of Falls Church, was also arrested that day and charged with murder. Cordova allegedly blocked the front door during the slaying.

In early September, police arrested Fredy Escobar, 23, a Sterling construction worker who is not related to Raul or Jose Escobar, and charged him with murder for allegedly blocking the townhouse's rear exit, armed with a knife. Avalos, the owner of the apartment, has also been charged in the slaying, but has not been located by police.

Investigators believe Jose Escobar's murder was ordered — or "green lighted" — after a vote by MS-13's leadership. The gang is based out of Los Angeles, though more than 1,200 members are thought to operate out of Northern Virginia, according to an FBI report on the gang.

Prince William County Prosecutor Will Jarvis said he is seeking at least life imprisonment for Montoya-Baires, and could very likely push for the death penalty.

"We have an extremely strong case against him," Jarvis said Wednesday after the preliminary hearing.

A grand jury will consider the case against Montoya-Baires Dec. 6 and, if an indictment is handed down, a court date would be set soon thereafter.

Detective James Moore, who investigated the Jose Escobar murder for Prince William County Police, said he is confident Montoya-Baires will be indicted and subsequently convicted.

According to court documents, a bloody shoe print found at the crime scene definitively ties Montoya-Baires to the killing.

"We have very good evidence in this case, forensic and otherwise," Moore said.

BARRY ZWEIG, Montoya-Baires' attorney, said Wednesday that Raul Escobar has a history of lying to investigators and that his testimony should be viewed with skepticism.

When police first interviewed Raul Escobar, he told them he was not present while his nephew was shot. Also, Zweig said, he has given conflicting statements while testifying against the three alleged killers.

"It speaks to his credibility," Zweig said.

Last week, Raul Escobar said he initially lied because his family in El Salvador had been threatened by MS-13 members and he feared retaliation.

He is currently being held at the Prince William County Adult Detention Center on charges of obstruction of justice.

Raul Escobar, who joined MS-13 three years ago, has twice entered the United States illegally, Zweig pointed out. Federal immigration agents deported him to El Salvador last April after he was arrested for fighting. He illegally returned to the U.S. a few months later and "retired" from the gang, saying he was tired of the violent life that left his nephew dead.

Jarvis said that even if Raul Escobar's credibility is called into question, the strength of the evidence is certain to put Montoya-Baires away for good and possibly to death.

"Like I said, it's a strong case," Jarvis said. "It's certainly not dependent on Raul Escobar."

RAUL ESCOBAR is being protected by the officers from the Prince William County Sheriff's Department. In exchange for his testimony, he may be eligible for the federal witness protection program, Jarvis said.

MS-13 members have retaliated against witnesses before. In June, four MS-13 members from Fairfax County were charged in the killing of Brenda Paz, a pregnant, 17-year-old who was cooperating with federal agents in an investigation.

But Raul Escobar said that he is less concerned with his own safety and just wants Montoya-Baires to pay.

"I don't want any more problems with my family or the gang," he said. "I want justice."