Maryland’s chief federal judge has ruled that an alleged MS-13 member accused of participating in two gruesome murders when he was 15 years old will be tried as an adult with other alleged members of the gang.
It is extremely rare for someone accused of committing crimes as a youth to be tried as an adult in federal court. But Chief Judge James K. Bredar said the allegations in the case – that the defendant helped remove the heart of one victim, and cut off the limbs of another with a machete – “heavily” weighed in favor of transferring him to adult court.
Bredar’s ruling Thursday re-affirmed an earlier ruling he had made in the case, which was appealed by new attorneys for the defendant, Jose Joya Parada, who last month was indicted as an adult in the 30-defendant case.
Parada “was not merely a conspirator,” Bredar wrote in the first opinion. “In fact, he was allegedly so involved that his conduct earned him the nickname ‘Little Jason’ within the Fulton clique [of MS-13] - an apparent reference to the violent antagonist in a horror franchise.”
Attorneys Chad Curlett and Lauren McLarney had asked Bredar to reconsider, saying studies and higher court rulings have affirmed that youth accused of crimes must be looked at differently.
“The Supreme Court’s view on the science about juvenile culpability cannot be ignored,” the defense attorneys wrote. “The science suggests that J.J.P.’s actions do not illustrate an irrevocable depravity but a predictable tendency to follow his peers and submit to their destructive pressure.”
The federal government’s case against the MS-13 clique contain a long list of accusations of violence, with killings that took place in multiple jurisdictions throughout Maryland, including Anne Arundel, Frederick, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
The first murder took place when a few weeks before Parada’s 16th birthday, on March 31, 2017, when a man was stabbed more than 100 times in Wheaton. He and others dismembered the victim, removed his heart and buried him in a grave.
Four days later, prosecutors say, Parada took part in a second murder in Frederick in which the victim struck with a machete and buried. They say the victim’s legs were cut off in order to make him fit.
He’s accused of additional assaults that took place in Wheaton that June.
“While we respect Chief Judge Bredar, we believe the law supports our position that a boy who was 15 years old when the crimes were committed should not be prosecuted as an adult in federal court,” Curlett said Thursday.
There is no separate juvenile court in the federal system; youth who are charged with “acts of juvenile delinquency” are charged under seal, and can be waived up to adult court.
Prosecutors cited DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo as one example of a youth being charged as an adult in the federal system. But Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said such cases “are not common.”
Bredar weighed various factors in his ruling. Parada’s father was killed in gang violence in El Salvador, and he crossed into the United States alone as an unaccompanied minor. His mother said he was deeply impacted by the murder of his father and the death of his grandfathers.
He “initially performed well academically after arriving in America, and in the ninth grade received As and Bs in his classes,” Bredar noted. But he was expelled from his Montgomery County high school.
Bredar said his background and his young age weighed against transferring the case for an adult prosecution.
But he said the violent assaults and racketeering activity was the most important and “weighed heavily” in favor of the transfer.
Curlett and McLarney said in their appeal that Bredar had shifted a burden to Parada to prove he was not fully culpable for his actions.
“The science shows that a juvenile is too underdeveloped and susceptible to peer influence to display irrevocable depravity, and the Supreme Court has established that a juvenile is, by definition, ‘less culpable’ than an adult who commits the same conduct,” they wrote.
The attorneys said their client was under “enormous influence” from “several older, armed gang members” and was hard-pressed to refuse the task.
“History is replete with the cases of soldiers who followed illegal orders, lacking the moral courage to stand up against them,” they wrote.
Bredar disagreed, saying his level of participation rose to the level of the case being handled in adult court “even if [the defendant] is not alleged to have led or convinced others to participate in the murders.”
“Here, the Court considered these unique attributes but determined that transfer was warranted because of the extreme nature of the allegations J.J.P. was facing,” Bredar wrote. “However, this did not equate to a conclusion that [Parada] was ‘scientifically and thus constitutionally’ the same as an adult, and the Court does not hold that view now post-transfer. In sum, [Parada’s] juvenile status has played a role and, when appropriate, will continue to play a role in this case.”
The trial was scheduled to begin on June 1, but has been pushed back due to coronavirus concerns.
The pending indictment alleges six murders and 13 other assaults or murder tries that occurred between 2015 and 2017. In one incident, gang members got into an altercation outside of a Dunkin Donuts in Wheaten after telling a man he couldn’t wear Nike Cortez sneakers, because they were only to be worn by gang members. The man was stabbed to death.
At least 10 of the co-defendants have pleaded guilty, many of them receiving sentences of 25 years or more.