Six of seven associates of a local MS-13 crew will serve time in prison for a shooting that injured three people outside a shopping center, with the final alleged gang member still at large.
The six defendants — Julio Cesar Castro, Walter Alexander Flores, Cesar Lopez, Gustavo Adolfo Lopez Mendez, Melisa Zavaleta Bautista and Josue Hernandez-Perez — all pleaded guilty to violating the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act stemming from the June 23, 2017, shooting.
The seventh man charged in the case who remains a fugitive, 19-year-old Alex Bautista, last lived in the Smyrna Powder Springs Road area of Smyrna, the DA’s office said.
According to the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, the events snowballed after several people got into an argument outside Marietta Event Hall on Franklin Gateway. Two groups of people relocated to a shopping center at 2112 South Cobb Drive in Smyrna. The argument continued, with several shouting that they were members of MS-13.
MS-13, formally known as Mara Salvatrucha, recruits middle and high schools students from El Salvador and other Central and South American countries, the FBI states.
During the altercation one person brandished a semiautomatic pistol and began shooting into a group of about 12 people. Three people were injured, including a boy who was shot in the abdomen several times, but the victims survived their injuries.
An investigation conducted by Smyrna police, Cobb police’s Criminal Apprehension and Gang Enforcement Unit and the District Attorney’s Office “confirmed” the defendants were associates of the gang, prosecutors said. The DA’s office also said the investigation indicates the victims had no ties to the gang.
An indictment issued in September 2018 notes Castro and Flores were leaders of the local MS-13 branch. Acting Cobb DA John Melvin said the “violent and senseless actions” of the men could have produced deadly outcome.
“Criminal street gangs are a plague on this county and in this state,” said. “I am thankful for the excellent work of the Smyrna Police Department and the C.A.G.E. Unit that allowed this office to hammer these criminal street gang members.”
The sentences for the defendants are:
•Castro, 21, of Marietta, pleaded guilty to gang crimes, aggravated assault and threatening a witness. The DA’s Office said Castro was the gang’s leader and threatened to kill witnesses and other gang members if they talked to police. He was sentenced to 20 years, 15 of which he will have to serve behind bars.
•Flores, 19, of Marietta, pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and was sentenced to 20 years, with 10 years to serve in prison, and was ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution. At the same hearing, he also entered a guilty plea to a drive-by shooting of a teenager in May 2017 at an apartment complex. His sentences will run concurrently.
•Lopez, 19, of Marietta, pleaded guilty to street gang terrorism and was sentenced to seven years, with one year to serve in prison, and has to pay $3,000 in restitution.
•Mendez, 22, of Marietta, pleaded guilty to gang crimes, aggravated assault, attempted affray, possessing a firearm during commission of a felony and trafficking methamphetamine. He received a 25-year sentence, 20 of which he has to serve in custody.
•Hernandez-Perez, 18, of Marietta, pleaded guilty to one count of street gang terrorism and was sentenced to 15 years, with two years to serve in custody, and was ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution.
•Zavaleta Bautista, 20, of Marietta, sentenced under the First Offender Act to a total of seven years, three of which she will have to serve in custody. She will get credit for time served since her January 2018 confinement.
Anyone who has information on Bautista’s whereabouts is asked to call 911 or their local police or sheriff’s department.
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