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Life Sentence for MS-13 Leader Who Ordered Multiple Killings

During the summer of 2019, a series of killings in northern Virginia stood out even in the violent world of the MS-13 street gang. That year, “the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area became an MS-13 hunting ground,” in the words of prosecutors. Law enforcement officials were accustomed to MS-13 killings that involved rival gang members or MS-13 members themselves who were suspected of cooperating with the police. However, prosecutors claim that a new development is that the victims were chosen randomly with no connection to MS-13 or any other gang, the Associated Press reports. On Tuesday, gang leader Melvin Canales Saldana, whose orders set off the killings, was sentenced to life in prison, as was another gang member convicted of carrying out one of them. A third member was sentenced to 14 years in prison after he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder but was acquitted of carrying out the killing himself. Prosecutors say Canales was the second-ranking member in the Sitios clique, or subunit, of MS-13, which had a strong presence in northern Virginia.


In 2019, Canales ordered midlevel members to get more aggressive about killing rival gang members, prosecutors said. Up until that time, members of the clique had largely contented themselves with running cocaine between New York and Virginia. MS-13 members responded by patrolling in Virginia and Maryland, looking for rival gang members. When they came up empty, according to prosecutors, they targeted random civilians so they could increase their status within the gang. In August 2019, gang members targeted Eric Tate as he traveled to an apartment complex to meet a woman. He bled out in the street. The next month, Antonio Smith was coming home from a convenience store when he was shot six times and killed. At a separate trial, three other MS-13 members, including the gang’s U.S. leader, Marvin Menjivar Gutiérrez, were convicted for their roles in the double slayings of Milton Bertram Lopez and Jairo Geremeas Mayorga. Canales’ attorney, Lana Manitta, said she will appeal her client’s conviction. She said that the targeting of innocent civilians was against Canales’ wishes and that his underlings tried to portray the shooting victims as legitimate gang rivals to him so that they would earn their promotions within the gang.

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