ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal jury convicted members of the MS-13 gang for the murder of two men targeted for death as part of a plan to train new recruits and expand the gang’s territory in Virginia in the summer of 2019. Melvin Canales, the second-in-command of an MS-13 cell called Sitios Locos Salvatrucha, along with another member, Jairo Aguilera, face mandatory life sentences for the slayings of Eric Tate, 25, and Antonio Smith, 37.
The trial, which lasted one week, exposed the gang’s strategy of randomly targeting individuals as part of their plan to promote members to higher ranks and extend their influence in the region. Meanwhile, a third MS-13 member, Manilester Andrade, was acquitted of one murder charge but convicted of conspiracy and drug-dealing counts, facing potential decades in prison.
Despite the convictions, the trial shed light on the violence that plagued Northern Virginia, with prosecutors and witnesses detailing the brutal killings and the gang’s efforts to expand their criminal activities in the area. The trial also revealed the cooperation agreements struck between federal prosecutors and two witnesses who gave testimony implicating their former associates in the murder conspiracy.
Defense attorneys argued about the lack of key evidence provided by the prosecutors and successfully got the testimony of one witness struck from the record. However, the prosecution presented strong evidence against the MS-13 members, including text and voice messages, as well as witness testimonies linking the defendants to the brutal crimes.
As the trial concluded, the attention shifted to the sentencing of the convicted individuals, while another trial for three additional defendants implicated in the same string of murders in Prince William County was set to begin. The trials have brought attention to the ongoing efforts to combat gang violence in the area, with authorities vowing to hold those responsible for the heinous crimes accountable.