The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Monday, August 22, 2005

Kilgore proposes change to crime law; A1

GOP hopeful says confronting gangs is key to solution

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

MOUNT JACKSON — The beautiful surroundings near the Meems Bottom Covered bridge belie the terrible things that happened there.

That’s symbolic of Virginia’s gang problem, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Jerry Kilgore said Friday. Just like other places in rural Virginia, the big-city problem of gangs no longer stops at the city limits.

“Gangs are here,” he said, flanked by law enforcement officers from Shenandoah County.

“We have to confront them and get rid of them,” he said, proposing a change to Virginia law that would expand the death penalty to include those who order murders, not just those who commit them.

Kilgore made the remarks in a joint appearance with Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Todd Gilbert, the Republican nominee for the 15th District House of Delegates seat.

Gilbert and his opponent, Democrat Jim Blubaugh, seek to succeed retiring incumbent Del. Allen Louderback, R-Luray.

The location of the announcement is significant. The bridge is near where the body of 17-year-old Brenda “Smiley” Paz, a member of the violent Latino street gang MS-13 who had turned federal informant, was found.

Paz had been in the federal witness protection program, but left federal protection not long before she was to testify. She was four months pregnant when she was killed.

Police said Paz was stabbed to death by fellow members of MS-13, likely in an effort to keep her from testifying at the trial of a fellow gang member.

Oscar Antonio “Pantera” Grande, 22, and Ismael “Arana” Juarez Cisneros, 26, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of release earlier this year in connection with the murder.

Two other men, Denis “Conejo” Rivera, 21, and Oscar Alexander “Gato” Garcia-Orellana, 32, were acquitted by the same jury.

The case was tried in federal court because Virginia law does not permit the death penalty for those who do not actually commit the slaying, according to Kilgore and Gilbert.

“[Paz’s murder] was an ordered hit that came from the top of the gang,” Kilgore said.

The former attorney general said his Democratic opponent doesn’t support removing that “triggerman” rule.

Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine said at a July debate in West Virginia that he “generally doesn’t believe that an expansion of the death penalty is the best way to fight crime.”

The Kaine campaign issued a response to Kilgore’s press conference about an hour before it started.

Gang activity jumped 220 percent while Kilgore was secretary of public safety under former Gov. George Allen, the campaign said in an e-mail to reporters.

The campaign cited a Virginia Crime Commission report to the General Assembly that found the number of counties reporting youth gang activity during Kilgore’s tenure went from 10 to 22 from 1994 to 1996.

If he is elected, eliminating the “triggerman loophole” will be one of the first bills he submits to the General Assembly, Kilgore said. He also talked about other legislation designed to steer young people away from gangs.

One law would give stiff sentences for first-time gang offenses, but would allow that punishment to be deferred or dropped if defendants stay away from gangs in the future.

“They would go back to prison if they don’t stay gang-free,” he said.

Election Day is Nov. 8.