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

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gilbert aiming to expand Va.’s death penalty; B1

New delegate introducing two bills spurred by killing of gang informant

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

RICHMOND — Murder should be a capital offense in Virginia, regardless of who pulled the trigger, according to newly minted Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.

He’s aiming to make that the law of the land during his first session in Richmond.

Gilbert is set to introduce two bills when the General Assembly opens today, both of which would expand the state’s death penalty. He was elected in November to replace retiring Del. Allen Louderback, R-Luray.

One would make a person who orders a murder eligible for death, while the other would extend the ultimate sanction to those who murder a witness or police informant.

“The triggerman bill is aimed at treating criminal kingpins the same as the people they order to commit their crimes,” Gilbert said. “Under Virginia law, the person who came up with the idea for a crime” is usually prosecuted as if they committed it themselves.

But that stops when the crime is murder.

If “I’m your superior in a gang, or even if I paid you” to pull the trigger, “I’m not treated as if I’m the one that committed the crime,” he said.

Killing someone who cooperates with authorities is also a non-capital offense in Virginia. If criminals know killing a witness could lead to their death, they might think twice about doing it, Gilbert said.

It’s “another line of defense for people who are cooperating with police. Shooting a police officer in the line of duty triggers the death penalty,” he said. Witnesses deserve the same protection.

“If [a criminal crosses] that line, they are subject to that ultimate punishment,” he said.

Those are two reasons federal authorities had to step in and prosecute the murder of 17-year-old MS-13 gang informant Brenda Paz. Her body was found at the Shenandoah River near the Meems Bottom covered bridge.

Federal law allows for the death penalty in such cases.

“In the case of Brenda Paz, the guy who ordered it … started the chain of events rolling that led to her death. But for his position in the gang, he would not have had the authority to do that,” Gilbert said. A former assistant Shenandoah County commonwealth’s attorney, Gilbert was one of the prosecutors who worked on the Paz case.

Oscar Antonio “Pantera” Grande, 22, and Ismael “Arana” Juarez Cisneros, 26, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of release last 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.

Had Gilbert’s bills been law at the time, the crimes would have been capital offenses in two ways.

Both the House of Delegates and Senate convene today at noon. Neither bill had been assigned a number as of late Tuesday.