MS-13 members sentenced for gangland killing

Decrying the “savage brutality” of a meticulously planned, gang-related, execution-style murder, a state Superior Court Judge has sentenced three young defendants to a combined total of 67 years in state prison for their roles in the crime, acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan announced Friday.

Juan Delgado, 19, was sentenced to 17 years while 19-year-old Felix Rivera and 22-year-old Juan Barraza both were sentenced to 25 years Friday morning by Judge Robert Kirsch. A minimum of 85 percent of all three sentences must be served before any of the three become eligible for parole under New Jersey’s No Early Release Act, and upon the completion of their terms, each defendant will be deported to his native El Salvador, Kirsch said.

On Wednesday, April 22, 2015, Elizabeth Police Department patrol units found the body of 18-year-old Oscar Antonio Martinez-Alvarez near a stretch of railroad tracks close to the 300 block of Court Street in Elizabeth, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Colleen Ruppert, who prosecuted the case. Martinez-Alvarez was pronounced dead at the scene, Ruppert said.

An investigation involving the Union County Homicide Task Force, the Elizabeth Police Department, and the Union County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit revealed that Barraza, a leader of a local MS-13 gang set operating in and around Elizabeth, ordered the killing due to the perceived notion that Martinez-Alvarez had been associating with a rival gang. Delgado lured the victim to the scene, where Rivera fired four shots at close range into his chest, killing him.

Barraza and Delgado were arrested without incident at their Elizabeth homes on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Rivera fled the area after the killing and was later apprehended in Virginia and extradited back to New Jersey.

In arguing for 25-year sentences for each defendant, Ruppert described the crime as a callous assassination prompted for perceived “disloyalty to MS-13,” noting that Rivera was known to have casually bragged to an associate as having scored “four goals” on the victim by shooting him four times.

“This is the most violent street gang operating in our area,” she said. “And they actively operate by recruiting from high schools.”

Kirsch rejected defense attorneys’ suggestions that the defendants were too young or immature to grasp the gravity of their actions, along with the notion that they became enlisted in the ranks of their gang out of a desire to attain a sense of identity or order shortly after moving to America with family members.

“Your actions in this case besmirch and insult … the desperate measures others (from Central America) take to find their way here – and for that, you should be ashamed,” Kirsch told Rivera. “The community at large has to understand that gangs such as MS-13 and others, their crimes will be aggressively pursued by law enforcement … and no expense will be avoided to apprehend (perpetrators) and bring them to justice.” 

Neither Rivera nor Delgado made any remarks on the record when offered the opportunity. Through an interpreter, Barraza expressed remorse and regret in brief comments, describing the killing as a “mistake.”

Rivera and Delgado were both 16-year-old juveniles at the time of the shooting, but were waived up to be tried as adults. All three were indicted in May 2017, and they subsequently all pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree aggravated manslaughter.