MS-13 Gang Leader Gets Life Behind Bars

MS-13 Gang Leader Gets Life Behind Bars

( – Mara Salvatrucha, known better as MS-13, is an international crime gang that began in the 1980s. According to the Justice Department, Salvadoran immigrants who came to the US to get away from the civil war in their country originally established the syndicate. People have come to know the gang for its violence and use of fear and intimidation to carry out their illegal activities. While it formed on the West Coast, it has since spread nationwide. On May 30, a judge sentenced one of its leaders to life in prison.

Melvin Canales Saldana was reportedly behind the orders given to carry out the summer 2019 murders in northern Virginia. The cases were unique because MS-13 was more widely known for killing rival gang members or even its own if they suspected someone was cooperating with police. Yet, in 2019, MS-13 members murdered four people at random in Prince William County without any apparent ties to a gang — rival or MS-13. Prosecutors say the group used the killings as part of its efforts to expand territory and enhance its reputation.

In January, a jury convicted two members, including Canales, who was the second-ranking member in the gang’s Sitios Locos Salvatrucha (STLS) cell, on murder charges. Then, on Friday, February 2, federal prosecutors convicted three more of racketeering and murder.

On April 30, Canales appeared in court for his sentencing hearing. The judge handed down a life sentence. He came to the US in 2016, trying to evade arrest in El Salvador, where he had joined the MS-13 gang during his early teenage years.

Prosecutors alleged Canales ordered mid-level members to kill those in rival groups, but when the members came up empty, they targeted random individuals. It was part of a plan to elevate their status in MS-13.

The killings set off a period of fear in the county. The sentence provides some measure of justice for the four victims: Jairo Mayorga, Antonio Smith, Milton Beltran, and Eric Tate.

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