Statements of contrition from two murderers, former friends from the same street gang, couldn’t have been much different.
Oscar Antonio Grande, 22 of Fairfax, and Ismael Juarez Cisneros, 26 of Vienna, were formally sentenced to life in prison during a half-hour sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria last Friday, Sept. 9.
Grande and Cisneros were convicted last June of the murder of 17-year-old Brenda Paz, a former ward of Arlington courts and a federal witness prepared to testify against MS-13 gang members in multiple states including Virginia and Texas. Paz was stabbed more than a dozen times, nearly decapitated, and left murdered on a river bank in Shenandoah County on July 13, 2003.
"This murder was horrific, it was brutal, it was vicious," said Judge Gerald Bruce Lee.
"I spent over a year in court with you, now is your opportunity to speak," he said.
Cisneros, who has renounced gang ties since his arrest and incarceration, expressed regret on Friday. "I want to apologize for my actions, for the hurt I did to Brenda’s family — I not only hurt them, I hurt my family," he said. "I am very remorseful, sorry about what happened. I want to apologize to everyone for all the harm I’ve caused."
Grande focused on himself. "I want to thank you for treating me with the same respect as everyone else in the court," Grande told Lee. "I would like to ask you before I go to prison, can I please get my visiting privileges back?"
<b>SOME JURORS</b> thought Grande and Cisneros should be sentenced to death for the torture they inflicted on Paz.
Because the jury couldn’t reach unanimous agreement to impose the death penalty, Grande and Cisneros automatically received sentences of life in prison without the possibility of release.
"My role today is very limited," said Judge Lee, who added that he hopes the trial sends a message to youth who join gangs and engage in criminal activity, and to the entire community.
Dozens of witnesses testified at the trial, including many teenagers and young adults from Fairfax County involved in gangs. The trial gave a broad picture of gang life and choices some youth are making.
"MS-13 seems to be a loose group of homeless young people without an anchor," Lee said.
"Tax payers have to spend money for Boys and Girls clubs, and the Hispanic community needs to take action to reach out," he said.
<b>LEE REMINDED GRANDE</b> and Cisneros that the jury recommended a life sentence with the hope that the two could ultimately seek redemption for their crime and could reach out to Hispanic youth at risk for joining gangs.
Lee told the two gang members that they now have the choice to be "gang martryrs, gang heroes" or influence positive change with "their writings, words, and contact with friends and family."
"The sentence I impose is life, what you do with it is up for you to choose," Lee said. "The jury gave you an indication of their hope."
Cisneros indicated that he is going to work to help prevent youth from making the choices and mistakes he made. He asked the government to spend more attention to young people, especially those at risk.
"I hope all the youth that receive this news [listen]. I hope they change their lives," he said.
Grande asked to be able to see his friends. "I want friends to come visit me, not gang members, friends," Grande said.
Moments before, Grande’s attorney David Baugh advocated for his client to be jailed in a prison close to Northern Virginia to "lesson the sorrow and misery of his family."
"One day, he’ll look back and say, ‘I was wrong," Baugh said. "And, then, there is a possibility of redemption."
For now, Grande and Cisneros were ordered to start working in prison to pay $1,150 in restitution to Paz’s parents for the cost of cremating their 17-year-old daughter, four months pregnant when she was murdered.