A Maryland teen is facing 40 years behind bars after pleading guilty to his part in the grisly murder of another teen prosecutors said he believed to be a member of a rival street gang.
In reality, the victim was determined to be an individual merely showing off with hand signals that offended the attackers.
“He did flash some gang signs trying to impress these young men who were around him and he did not realize that they were part of MS-13, and that did cause them to report back to their hierarchy,” explained Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office spokesperson Ramon Korionoff.
According to WTTG, 17-year-old Juan Gutierrez-Vasquez was 16 when he and a group of suspected MS-13 gang members took turns stabbing Christian Villagran Morales.
Prosecutor Robert Hill argued in court this week that the defendant was one of the suspects who forced Morales to the ground at a park in Gaithersburg in June 2016. The fatal attack that followed left the victim was 153 stab wounds.
According to the Washington Post, the murder was one of five in just over a one-year period linked to members of the notorious gang.
According to the prosecution, Gutierrez-Vasquez took a day to consider whether to participate in the murder.
Korionoff said the victim was “greenlighted” for death by gang superiors after the initial encounter.
The defendant addressed the court, expressing remorse for the killing but suggesting he had no other choice.
“I’m sorry, but my life was in danger,” he said. “Maybe they can forgive me. God has already forgiven me.”
In an effort to secure a more lenient sentence, a lawyer representing Gutierrez-Vasquez said a troubled childhood and peer pressure led him to take part in the gruesome stabbing.
Both he and a co-defendant convicted of helping to lure the victim to the park received 40-year sentences.
The victim’s mother said she feels “tranquil” knowing that her son’s killer will spend decades in jail.
“There was some justice,” she said.
[Featured image: Juan Gutierrez-Vasquez/Montgomery County Police Department]