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The Washington Post, June 25, 2004
© 2004 Washington Post
Four N.Va. Gang Members Charged in Slaying of Witness
Originally Printed At : A Section; A01
AUTHOR(S): Jerry Markon and Maria Glod

Members of a violent Northern Virginia street gang lured a 17-year-old pregnant federal witness to the Shenandoah River on the pretense of taking her fishing, but then stabbed her repeatedly and told her they were killing her because she had cooperated with law enforcement, authorities charged yesterday.

The plot, federal officials said, was masterminded from a Northern Virginia jail cell where one of the gang members was awaiting trial on murder charges.

Four members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Alexandria in the death of Brenda Paz, another gang member who left the federal witness protection program last June, about a month before her tattoo-covered body was found on the banks of the river.

Paz had cooperated with detectives in at least six states against MS-13 and was scheduled to be a witness in a federal murder case in Alexandria. One of the men later convicted in that slaying, Denis Rivera, 20, of Alexandria, was charged yesterday with orchestrating Paz's slaying from jail. The others charged -- Oscar Antonio Grande, 21, of Fairfax, Ismael Juarez Cisneros, 25, of Vienna and Oscar Alexander Garcia-Orellana, 31, of Fairfax -- wielded the knives that killed Paz, prosecutors said.

All four were charged with killing a federal witness, witness tampering and retaliating against a witness. They could face the death penalty or life in prison. Prosecutors said a decision has not been made on whether to seek death.

Citing taped telephone calls and intercepted mail, the indictment alleges that the four men investigated whether Paz was cooperating, determined that she was and lured her on the supposed fishing trip. Rivera, known within the gang as "Conejo," or "Rabbit," is quoted as saying at one point that he would plant Paz "in a park."

Told of Paz's stabbing, the indictment says, Rivera said the lesson for gang members or anyone else is that those who "rat on Conejo" die: "They rat and that's it."

Rivera's attorney in the Alexandria slaying case, Robert L. Jenkins Jr., said he had not seen the new indictment and could not comment. The three other defendants had not yet been appointed lawyers.

The indictment marks another escalation in the federal crackdown on MS-13, which is active throughout the region and is the largest and most violent street gang in Northern Virginia. Federal prosecutors are conducting a broad grand jury probe, which sources have said is aimed at crippling the gang by targeting its leaders.

Paul J. McNulty, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria, called the indictment "a major step forward in a united effort by law enforcement to attack gang violence in Northern Virginia. Those who threaten or retaliate against witnesses will be dealt with in the severest terms."

The region's growing gang problem has been attracting increasing attention from politicians and law enforcement, especially since last month's gang-related machete attack that nearly severed the hands of a Fairfax teenager and the slaying a few days later of a Herndon youth. Underscoring that concern, 13 state and federal law enforcement officials stood behind McNulty at a news conference announcing yesterday's indictment.

Paz, who was known as "Smiley" within MS-13, grew up in Los Angeles as the daughter of a gang member. In September 2002, the indictment says, she began cooperating with the federal probe of the gang, revealing to FBI agents and prosecutors "her extensive knowledge of MS-13."

She said, for example, that Rivera had told her of his involvement in the September 2001 slaying of Joaquim Diaz, 19, who was lured into the woods on federal land in Alexandria, stabbed repeatedly and nearly beheaded, according to the indictment. Paz said Rivera had told her that cutting Diaz's throat was "like cutting through a chicken," the indictment says. Rivera and another MS-13 member were convicted in Diaz's killing and sentenced to life.

Paz was put in an FBI safe house and then into witness protection. But people who knew her have said she left because she missed the allure of gang life. Soon after she returned to Northern Virginia in June 2003, MS-13 began plotting her slaying, the indictment says.

The three other defendants -- who are jailed on unrelated charges but were free at the time of the slaying -- communicated with Rivera, who was jailed in Arlington and Fairfax counties. At one point, the indictment says, Rivera had another MS-13 member call Paz at a hotel in Kansas City, Mo., while Rivera secretly listened in from his cell.

After Paz told that gang member that Rivera would be lucky if the federal government didn't "kill him," the indictment says, MS-13 concluded that Paz was talking.

Asked whether Paz's slaying could have been prevented, McNulty said that federal authorities did everything they could to protect her but that her departure from witness protection had "exposed her to enormous risk."

Greg Hunter, an Arlington lawyer who was Paz's court-appointed guardian, yesterday recalled a phone conversation he had with Paz days before her death in which he pleaded with her to reenter witness protection. Despite his urging, he said, she insisted that she would stay on the street.

"She was convinced the marshals wouldn't take her back, and she was convinced she could handle this," Hunter said.

John F. Clark, the U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, said it had been too difficult for officials monitoring Rivera's calls from jail to piece the plot together before Paz's death. "With the slang they used and code and this sort of street kind of gang dialect, it was not readily discernible," he said.

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Richmond Times Dispatch, March 19, 2004
© 2004 Richmond Times Dispatch
Execution Carried Out In '94 Killing Of Woman
Originally Printed At: AREA/STATE; Pg. B-1
AUTHOR(S): Frank Green

Brian Lee Cherrix was executed by injection last night for the 1994 capital murder of Tessa Van Hart in Chincoteague.

Cherrix, 30, was pronounced dead at 9:10 p.m. in the death house of the Greensville Correctional Center, said Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections.

When asked if he would like to make a last statement, Cherrix said, "No, I do not."

Van Hart, 23, the mother of a young son and daughter, was a pizza delivery woman. Cherrix lured her to her death with a phony pizza order on the night of Jan. 27, 1994. Van Hart was sodomized and shot twice. Her body was found in her car near the vacant home where she attempted to deliver the pizza.

The killing went unsolved for three years.

In 1997, when being held in jail for unrelated crimes, Cherrix confessed to police after first trying to blame the slaying on a deceased cousin. In a 2001 interview with The Times-Dispatch, Cherrix denied he was guilty and said he confessed only so police would stop bothering him.

Cherrix declined to be interviewed last week.

In 2001, Cherrix won a court order for DNA testing in the case but the bio- logical material in question proved unsuitable for testing.

Robert L. Jenkins Jr., one of Cherrix's lawyers, said that Cherrix did not want to ask Gov. Mark R. Warner for clemency and that he had instructed his lawyers not to file any appeals on his behalf.

Yesterday evening, Warner issued a statement noting that Cherrix's death sentence had been affirmed by the Virginia Supreme Court. "I have not been asked by Mr. Cherrix to intervene, there are no legal challenges to this scheduled execution, and accordingly, I expect the court-ordered sentence to be carried out," he said.

Cherrix, citing his belief that the human body is a temple that should not be mutilated, won permission from the state medical examiner's office to not have his body autopsied after his execution as is the standard practice.

Instead, said Jenkins, the medical examiner planned to closely view Cherrix's body and take a blood sample for toxicology testing after his death.

Traylor said that members of Van Hart's family witnessed the execution. He could not say who they were or how many were present.

Traylor said Cherrix visited with immediate family members, the clergy and his lawyers yesterday afternoon.

Cherrix was the first person executed in Virginia this year and the 90th since the death penalty was allowed to resume by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.

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Richmond Times Dispatch, March 18, 2004
© 2004 Richmond Times Dispatch
Execution Of Cherrix Set For 9 P.M. Tonight
Originally Printed At: AREA/STATE; Pg. B-2
AUTHOR(S): Collected from Wire Services and Times-Dispatch Resources

Preparations are under way at the Greensville Correctional Center for tonight's execution by injection of Brian Lee Cherrix.

Cherrix, 30, was sentenced to death for the Jan. 27, 1994, slaying of Tessa Van Hart, 23, of Chincoteague.

Van Hart was sodomized and then shot to death. Cherrix confessed he committed the crime three years later while in custody for unrelated offenses. He did not ask for clemency from Gov. Mark R. Warner and instructed his lawyers not to file any appeals.

An agreement was worked out with the State Medical Examiner's Office so that Cherrix's body will not be autopsied, said Robert L. Jenkins Jr., one of his lawyers. Instead of an autopsy, Cherrix's body will be examined and a blood sample taken for toxicology testing.

The execution is set to take place at 9 p.m.

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Richmond Times Dispatch, March 17, 2004
© 2004 Richmond Times Dispatch
Chincoteague Killer Likely To Be Executed Tomorrow
Originally Printed At: AREA/STATE; Pg. B-2
AUTHOR(S): Frank Green

With no appeals or request for gubernatorial clemency pending, it appears Brian Lee Cherrix will be executed by injection tomorrow night.

Cherrix, 30, was sentenced to die for the Jan. 27, 1994, capital murder of Tessa Van Hart on Chincoteague Island. His would be the first execution in Virginia this year and the 90th in the state since the death penalty was allowed to resume in 1976.

Robert L. Jenkins Jr., one of Cherrix's lawyers, said Cherrix has decided not to seek clemency from Gov. Mark R. Warner and has instructed his lawyers not to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cherrix has asked state officials not to autopsy his body after his execution, as is the standard practice. He cited his religious beliefs in making the request.

Jenkins said yesterday that "we are in the process of trying to negotiate a resolution. Nothing has been finalized, but we intend to reach a mutually agreeable solution in the next 24 hours."

In 2001, Cherrix won a court order for more DNA testing in the case, but it turned out that there was not enough suitable genetic material to "amplify" for testing, said Michele J. Brace, another of Cherrix's lawyers.

Van Hart, 23, was the mother of two young children. She was delivering pizzas for the Famous Pizza and Sub Shop where her husband, Walter "Binky" Van Hart, was a cook.

A man called and ordered a pizza to be delivered to an address in the Small Piney Island area. Van Hart did not know the address was for an unoccupied summer residence. She left the restaurant with the pizza about 7:45 p.m.

Police were called when she did not return. They found her in the back seat of her car parked behind a vacant house on McGee Lane, a mile or so from where she was to deliver the pizza. She had been shot twice in the head and sodomized. The undelivered pizza was in the front of the car.

The murder went unsolved for more than two years. Then, in June 1996, Cherrix was being held in jail on unrelated charges when authorities said he offered to trade information about the Van Hart murder for leniency.

He told authorities that a cousin, who had died in a car crash in 1995, told him details about the crime.

However, the state police investigated his cousin's whereabouts the night of the murder and concluded he was not a suspect.

Cherrix began serving a nine-year sentence for wounding his half-brother with a shotgun. Then, in April 1997, he was sent back to the Accomack County Jail on new charges, including grand larceny.

On April 25, 1997, police say, they advised Cherrix of his Miranda rights and that he confessed to committing the Van Hart slaying.

Cherrix took police and an Accomack County deputy sheriff to Chincoteague, to show them locations he described in his confession. He even pointed out where the murder weapon had been thrown into a creek. Cherrix was convicted and sentenced to death in early 1998.

In a 2001 phone interview, however, Cherrix denied he committed the crime. He acknowledged he confessed to police but said he did so to get them to stop bothering him.

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The Washington Post, August 16, 2003
© 2003 The Washington Post
Prosecutors Hope to Quote Dead Witness; Testimony on Gang Would Violate Murder Suspect's Rights, Defense Says
Originally Printed At: METRO; Pg. B01
AUTHOR(S): Jerry Markon and Maria Glod

A pregnant 18-year-old woman who was murdered after leaving the federal Witness Protection Program provided key evidence in a federal probe of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang -- and prosecutors said yesterday that they intend to use her statements in court.

Brenda Paz, a member of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, told federal investigators that two MS-13 members had told her of their involvement in the slaying of a rival gang member in 2001, prosecutors said in court papers. One of the members was Denis Rivera, 19, Paz's boyfriend and a reputed MS-13 leader who told Paz that cutting the victim's throat "was just like cutting chicken," prosecutors said.

Rivera and two other alleged MS-13 members are to be tried next month in federal court in Alexandria, and Paz was scheduled to testify, prosecutors said. But Paz's decomposed body was recovered from the banks of the Shenandoah River on July 17.

No one has been charged in Paz's death, but yesterday prosecutors released what they called "extensive evidence" of Rivera's involvement -- transcripts of his telephone calls at the Arlington County Detention Facility, where he was being held.

According to prosecutors, in one conversation an unidentified juvenile known as "Philosopher" told Rivera, allegedly referring to Paz: "Yes, I really believe she ratted on you." Rivera responded: "Yes, but you know how I will hang her, I will call her, and in a park we'll step on her, step on her so hard she won't be getting up." At another point, Rivera said: "It's true, I think she is a rat. I'm going to test her, and if the cops find out, then I'll know. . . . If she wants to play games, so will we," prosecutors said.

The transcripts also show that authorities had ample warning of the danger to Paz, who sources have said had been "green-lighted" -- code for an order to kill. Asked by Arlington County police on March 7 if Paz would be killed, Rivera reportedly said: "I got some people who would do it for me, " according to court papers.

Prosecutors are usually barred from introducing evidence from witnesses who do not appear in court because the Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to confront their accusers. But prosecutors said in yesterday's court filing, which asks a federal judge to admit Paz's statements as evidence, that the statements constitute an exception because of Rivera's alleged involvement in her death.

Attorneys for Rivera signaled that they will fight to keep Paz's statements out.

"In all my years of handling federal criminal matters, I've never heard of such a thing," said Robert L. Jenkins, one of Rivera's attorneys. "This is patently unfair and clearly violates the Sixth Amendment. Mr. Rivera would not be able to cross-examine this witness because she is no longer with us."

Jenkins said he could not comment further on the government filing because he had not seen it.

Nancy King, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who teaches criminal procedure, said the government might have a "plausible argument" to admit Paz's statements. "If it's the defendant who has created the risk of unfairness to him by eliminating the witness, it's less compelling for him to claim, 'Wait a minute, I don't have a chance to cross-examine the person,' " she said.

But King added that there would still be concerns about the reliability of Paz's statements. "You don't have the person up there under oath, so we may have a risk that the statement is inaccurate, false or insincere," she said.

Rivera and two other men are facing trial in the Sept. 16, 2001, death of Joaquim Diaz, 19, who was killed on federal property on Daingerfield Island in Alexandria along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said yesterday that Diaz was stabbed numerous times, his head was nearly severed, his esophagus was removed and found near his body and his throat was removed by "what appears to be a household steak knife."

The killing triggered a broad federal grand jury probe of MS-13, which police universally point to as the most dangerous and fastest-growing street gang in Northern Virginia.

Paz, who was born in Honduras and raised on the streets of Los Angeles as the daughter of an MS-13 member, had become a key witness not only in the federal probe but also in more than a half-dozen other investigations of the gang.

"Smiley," as she was known in MS-13 for her charm and cheerfulness, told detectives from Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria -- and five other states -- about stabbings, shootings and armed robberies, law enforcement sources have said. Looking for a way out, Paz entered witness protection in March but left in June because she was bored and unhappy and could not resist the lure of gang life, sources said.

Greg Hunter, a lawyer and Paz's court-appointed guardian, would not reveal yesterday what Paz told him about Diaz's killing or other cases. But Hunter, who federal prosecutors said would testify at Diaz's trial about Paz's statements, said he was sure she was killed for talking to authorities about the gang.

"I have every reason to believe that she's dead because of her connection to MS-13," Hunter said.

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National Law Journal October 28, 2002
© 2002 National Law Journal
Juvenile Record Lands Minor In Adult Court
Originally Printed At: COLUMN; Vol. 25; No. 8; Pg. B5

granting the state's motion to transfer a murder prosecution from juvenile to adult court, a Virginia federal judge determined that the six statutory factors set out in 18 U.S.C. 5032 militate in favor of a transfer where the leader of a violent gang was three days shy of his 18th birthday when he allegedly stabbed the victim, had a lengthy juvenile record and had failed to respond to rehabilitation. U.S. v. D.R., Male Juvenile, No. 02-358-MG [E.D. Va. Oct. 11].

FOR PLAINTIFF: Ronald L. Walutes Jr., U.S. attorney's office, Alexandria, Va.
FOR DEFENSE: Robert L. Jenkins Jr., Matthew A. Wartel, Bynum & Jenkins, Alexandria
JUDGE: T. S. Ellis III

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The Boston Herald, June 28, 2002 Friday
© 2002 The Boston Herald
Fed Terror Probe Eyes Saudi Man With Links To Hub
Originally Printed At: NEWS; Pg. 001
AUTHOR(S): Andrew Miga

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Federal investigators say they have uncovered an alarming array of potential terrorist materials at the home of a Saudi Arabian man with Boston ties who was briefly enrolled at a Massachusetts flight school.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court this week, the items seized from Saleh Ali Almari's suburban Washington apartment included a sketch of a plane hitting the World Trade Center, a postcard with an aerial view of the Pentagon, books on chemical weapons and aircraft identification, and videos on air and water disasters.

Investigators claim in the court documents that the materials and other items seized in the December search are "possibly related to planned acts of terrorism."

The 24-year-old Almari was charged Tuesday as part of a nationwide ring that allegedly helped more than a hundred foreigners seeking student visas fraudulently pass English proficiency tests by having someone else take the exams for them. He is being held at the same Alexandria jail where accused American Taliban John Walker Lindh and alleged "20th hijacker" Zaccarias Moussaoui are being detained.

Almari lived in Cambridge, Mass., for about a year in 1999 when he first came to America on a student visa. That spring he "briefly enrolled as a student pilot at Executive Flyers Aviation" at Bedford's Hanscom Airport, prosecutors said in their affidavit. He moved to Virginia in 2000.

U.S. officials this week said while they have not been able to connect Almari to the Sept. 11 attacks or to any other terrorist activities, they have not ruled out the possibility he may have terrorist ties.

Almari's attorney, in a Herald interview yesterday, insisted his client is an innocent victim of overzealous prosecutors.

"At this point the government investigation has uncovered no evidence that connects my client to the Sept. 11 attacks," said attorney Robert L. Jenkins Jr. "Mr. Almari is not a terrorist. He's a peaceful man. He's not a militant man at all."

Jenkins complained the government's case paints Almari with a broad brush, suggesting he may have terror ties, but not charging him with anything connected to terrorism.

"It has been going on all around the country," said Jenkins. "The government is using flimsy excuses to detain people."

The affidavit filed by federal prosecutors said that 11 days after the Sept. 11 suicide airliner strikes against the Pentagon and New York, Almari returned to his native Saudi Arabia. Almari left behind his personal belongings, according to court documents.

In December, when he returned and was detained, a search of his apartment turned up:

-- A day planner containing a single cryptic entry for Sept. 11 that read, "Trachd (sic) The World Trade Center or the Pentagon Trachd for the Plaen."

-- A book entitled "The Strategic Implications of Biological and Chemical Weapons on Gulf Security," and another detailing ways to identify commercial airliners.

-- Two videotapes entitled "Incredible Air Disasters" and "Incredible Water Disasters," and a hand-drawn sketch of an airplane slamming into the World Trade Center towers.

-- Names and locations of 12 oil refineries across America.

-- Photos of Almari posing inside a Cessna 152 and a Federal Aviation Agency student flight manual.

-- Photocopies of numerous passports that did not belong to Almari and a copy of a passport from Qatar with Almari's photo, but the name of "Saleh Ali J.O. Aljollab."

-- Airline tickets showing travel to Boston, New York, Washington, Los Angeles and London.

Jenkins said that Almari lived with three other roommates in the Falls Church apartment and that several other people also had access to it.

"The government has little or no evidence to connect Mr. Almari to the items," said Jenkins. "Mr. Almari does not claim any ownership rights to those items."

Jenkins said Almari first arrived in the Boston area on a student visa in 1999. The lawyer said he did not know where Almari went to school in Boston or what he studied. He did not hold any jobs, Jenkins said.

Jenkins insisted that Almari never actually took flight lessons in Bedford, Mass. - or anywhere else.

"At one point he contacted a flight school, but he did not take any flight lessons," said Jenkins.

A spokesperson for Bedford's Executive Flyers Aviation said there was no record of Almari ever flying at the school.

Prosecutors alleged that when Almari moved to northern Virginia in 2000, he enrolled at Marymount College in Arlington, but never attended classes.

Almari was arrested at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Jan. 13 on grand larceny charges. The warrant alleged that he stole eight videotapes from the Boston Public Library during June 2001 - a preposterous criminal charge, in Jenkins' view.

Jenkins said he did not know what the videos contained. Almari pleaded guilty to seven counts of larceny on May 7. He was fined $ 500 for each count and was given probation.

Jenkins claimed prosecutors overreached with their video theft charges. He cited the allegations - which he compared to being jailed for an overdue library book - as a prime example of how prosecutors are overstepping their boundaries in their zeal to nab potential terrorists.

"Mr. Almari rented some videos from the Boston area which were overdue," he said. "The videos were discovered in another individual's apartment and that led to the government filing a criminal complaint."

Almari is currently being held in the Alexandria jail in a segregated unit to protect him from other prisoners.

He is awaiting a deportation hearing. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service earlier this year ruled his visa invalid.

Today Almari is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on the student visa-ring charge.

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The Boston Herald, June 30, 2002
© 2002 The Boston Herald
Saudi Suspect 'Dangerous'; Feds Probe Items Left In Va. Apartment
Originally Printed At: NEWS; Pg. 010
AUTHOR(S): Andrew Miga

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Federal prosecutors yesterday said they consider a Saudi Arabian man with Boston ties who had potential terrorist materials in his Virginia apartment to be dangerous.

"He's still under investigation," said prosecutor Neil Hammerstrom. "It's not been explained to the satisfaction of anyone what those items were doing in that apartment."

Saleh Ali Almari's attorney accused prosecutors of smear tactics, hinting Almari was somehow connected to the Sept. 11 attacks but never charging him.

"The government has attempted to give the impression Mr. Almari is somehow a dangerous individual because he was somehow involved with the events of Sept. 11th," said Robert L. Jenkins Jr.

Jenkins said he expected his client to be cleared. "I am confident Mr. Almari had nothing to do with Sept. 11," he said. "He has no hostile feelings towards the U.S."

When Almari was arrested in January, he was carrying a 1998 photo of himself and three other Middle Eastern men on the World Trade Center's observation deck, prosecutors said.

Federal agents also found a photo of Almari posing in the cockpit of a Cessna 152. FBI agents traced the tail number to Executive Flyers Aviation flight school in Bedford, Mass.

Executive Flyers officials told the FBI Almari took "two or more" flying lessons at the school in 1999, prosecutors said. Jenkins denied the claim.

Almari, 24, faces charges for his alleged role in a nationwide ring helping foreigners seeking student visas fraudulently pass English exams.

Almari, who lived at an apartment at 75 Cambridge Park in Cambridge, Mass., when he first came to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia in 1999 on a student visa, was ordered held without bail yesterday.

A glum-faced Almari, slightly built with short dark hair and a thin moustache, never spoke during the court proceedings.

Prosecutors cited more than 20 suspicious items found during a December search of Almari's apartment: copies of several passports, a bioterrorism book, an Executive Flyers student flight manual, aviation magazines, a postcard with an aerial view of the Pentagon and a sketch of a plane hitting the World Trade Center.

Jenkins insisted his client did not own any of the items. He said other people shared the apartment.

But the government said Almari's two brothers were his only roommates.

They also said the suspicious items were found in plain view in Almari's bedroom.

Jenkins noted the search was in December, several weeks after Almari left the U.S. for Saudi Arabia.

But the apartment complex manager told investigators no one had entered the apartment after Almari and his brother left last September.

Jenkins said he was retained on Almari's behalf by a third party but he refused to identify who that was.

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The Boston Globe, June 29, 2002
© 2002 The Boston Globe
Saudi Man With Hub Ties Held In Alleged Test-Taking Plot
Originally Printed At: NATIONAL/FOREIGN; Pg. A3
AUTHOR(S): Bret Ladine

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - A Saudi Arabian man with Massachusetts ties was ordered held without bail here yesterday, after a search of his home allegedly found materials referring to terrorist attacks. He is accused of scheming to fake English-language proficiency tests for foreign student-visa holders to enable them to remain in the United States.

Saleh Ali Almari, a former Cambridge resident, is accused of conspiracy, mail fraud, and wire fraud in connection with a test-taking scheme that allegedly involved more than 100 tests in several states, according to an affidavit filed in US District Court this week. The affidavit states that while searching Almari's Virginia apartment, which was occupied by at least two other people, investigators found items that are "possibly related to planned acts of terrorism."

According to the affidavit, items found by investigators were a Federal Aviation Administration student flight manual, flight school catalogues, flying magazines, and a day planner containing a single entry on last Sept. 11: "Trachd The World Traed Cente or the Pentegon Tracd for the Plaen" [sic].

The search also turned up photographs of "Middle Eastern males, including Almari" posing inside and outside the World Trade Center, a hand-drawn sketch of a plane striking the World Trade Center, a postcard with an aerial view of the Pentagon, videotapes titled, "Incredible Air Disasters" and "Incredible Water Disasters," photocopies of numerous passports that were not Almari's; and airline tickets to Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and London.

US District Court Judge T. Rawles Jones deemed Almari, 25, "a risk of flight and danger to the community" based on the evidence in the affidavit and ruled yesterday that Almari should be held without bail.

Almari's lawyer, Robert L. Jenkins Jr., said the judge chose to err on the side of caution rather than respect his client's rights.

"When all the facts come out, it will become clear that [Almari] is no danger to anyone," Jenkins said. "No one can conclusively prove that he was in possession of those items. We know there were at least two other people living in the apartment at the time."

One of those people is thought to be Almari's brother, who is no longer in the country, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the government was using the items found during the search of the apartment to make his client look far more sinister than a defendant in a typical fraud case. He said that several weeks went by between the time Almari left the US for Saudi Arabia on Sept. 22 and when his apartment was searched by investigators in December.

Almari is suspected of being part of a nationwide ring responsible for having experienced English speakers take the Test of English as a Foreign Language in place of those seeking student visas. The TOEFL, as it is commonly known, is administered by the Educational Testing Service. At many US colleges, students must demonstrate English proficiency to gain admission.

Two other men indicted in the scheme, Mahmoud Firas of California and Begad Abdel-Megeed of Virginia, are cooperating with government officials. Firas implicated Almari as a coparticipant in the scheme, according to the affidavit.

Detective Douglas H. Comfort, a temporary deputy US marshal, estimated in the affidavit that 130 aliens have secured fraudulent immigration status as a result of the testing scheme.

Almari, 25, lived in Cambridge for much of 1999 and enrolled briefly at a Bedford flight school before leaving the Boston area for Virginia in 2000. He was arrested at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport upon returning to the US in January and charged with stealing eight videotapes from the Boston Public Library during June 2000. Almari pled guilty to those charges and was fined.

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Richmond Times Dispatch, January 12, 2001
© 2001 Richmond Times Dispatch
Judge Approves DNA Test; But Inmate Faces Further Hurdles
Originally Printed At: AREA/STATE, Pg. B-1
AUTHOR(S): Frank Green

In the first such ruling of its kind in Virginia, a federal judge has approved DNA testing that could determine the guilt or innocence of a death row inmate convicted of a 1994 capital murder on Chincoteague Island.

U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of Alexandria also ordered the Virginia attorney general's office to take steps to preserve all the forensic evidence gathered in the case.

Brian L. Cherrix, 27, of Chincoteague, was sentenced to death in March 1998 in Accomack County for the January 1994 slaying of Tessa VanHart, 23, a pizza delivery woman. His lawyers want the test conducted so he can prove innocence and either gain relief in court or appeal to Gov. Jim Gilmore for clemency.

The ruling comes as efforts are expected in the Virginia General Assembly to allow such post-trial testing to be used in state courts.

It also comes less than three months after DNA testing cleared a former death row inmate, Earl Washington Jr., of capital murder.

The Virginia attorney general's office opposes the testing, which the judge approved Tuesday in the Cherrix case.

It is appealing the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on grounds that the federal court overstepped its bounds and issued an illegal order.

"We are duty-bound to challenge federal court orders that we believe violate federal law or improperly encroach upon the state's authority," said David Botkins, spokesman for Attorney General Mark L. Earley.

"Our action does not attempt to thwart a search for the truth. In fact, the attorney general has been assisting and working with the Virginia State Crime Commission on legislation that would allow DNA testing for Virginia prisoners who show a legitimate basis for it," Botkins said.

In this case, "however, we are seeking to ensure that the federal courts do not overstep their bounds in issuing illegal orders to state officials."

Lawyers for Cherrix, however, argue they had to go to federal court because no appropriate course is available in Virginia courts.

"Unlike some other states, prisoners in Virginia cannot be granted a new trial based on actual innocence if that evidence is discovered more than 21 days after trial," they said in court papers.

Cherrix was convicted of sodomizing VanHart, shooting her twice in the head and leaving her body in a car after luring her to a remote house by calling for a pizza delivery. A key piece of evidence against him is a disputed confession to police.

The attorney general's office says it was a "detailed confession," while Cherrix's attorneys contend the confession, "which is wholly in the handwriting of a police officer and which Mr. Cherrix never signed, was fabricated."

Cherrix's attorneys, Robert L. Jenkins Jr. of Alexandria and Michele J. Brace of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, argue that seminal fluid was collected from the victim's body for testing when the autopsy was conducted. A DNA test was unable to produce any results, according to court papers.

But DNA testing has improved so much that samples that were useless then may now be tested and produce results, they say.

Lee, in his ruling, said that claims of innocence based on newly discovered evidence may be grounds for a federal habeas appeal if there is a constitutional error in his state trial.

A habeas petition is a civil challenge alleging a constitutional error in either a criminal conviction or sentence.

Lee also cited a Texas case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled "that in a capital case a truly persuasive post-trial demonstration of actual innocence may render a defendant's execution unconstitutional."

Botkins said it is the state's position that a federal court cannot compel "a state official to act as a private investigator, courier and laboratory for a convicted capital murderer in his attempt to obtain habeas relief and that such an order constitutes a clear federal encroachment into the state system."

Cherrix's capital murder conviction and death sentence already have been upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court on direct appeal and again in a state appeal filed by Cherrix, he said.

Botkins said that "Cherrix fully confessed his guilt in the sodomy and murder of his victim. His guilt was confirmed by a jury of his peers and twice by the Virginia Supreme Court. .*.*.

"This matter, however, is not an issue about Cherrix's alleged innocence; it is about what we believe to be a clear abuse of federal judicial power," said Botkins.

He said Cherrix "could have asked for it during the state habeas proceeding just a year ago when the 'new' tests were available that he wants now, but he didn't.

"Because he didn't ask for the test when he could have gotten it, a federal judge cannot order it now. If he believes he is innocent, why isn't he going now to the governor and asking for a DNA test and a pardon?" asked Botkins.

Brace, however, said there is no guarantee the governor would act on such a request, or act promptly. Last year, Gilmore approved DNA testing in the case of Derek Rocco Barnabei but did not approve a request from Russel William Burket.

The test results in the Barnabei case further implicated him and he was executed on Sept. 14. Burket was also executed last year.

Botkins said that the Virginia State Crime Commission has recommended that a bill be considered this General Assembly session to allow for DNA testing if the test couldn't have been performed at the time of the trial.

If such a bill passed and took effect in July, Cherrix could seek a test and then go the governor with the results, he said.

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Richmond Times Dispatch, June 6, 2001
© 2001 Richmond Times Dispatch
State Argues Against DNA Testing
Originally Printed At: AREA/STATE; Pg. B-3
AUTHOR(S): Frank Green

The Virginia Attorney General's Office yesterday vigorously argued against a federal judge's order for DNA testing in the case of Brian L. Cherrix, who has been sentenced to death for the January 1994 slaying of a pizza delivery woman on Chincoteague Island.

The argument drew a tough question for Assistant Attorney General Pamela A. Rumpz from one of three judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hearing the case.

Noting that the state believes Cherrix guilty, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz asked: "What I don't understand is, why is the commonwealth fighting this so hard? This will be the definitive evidence that he did it, and if by some chance the commonwealth is wrong, this may let an innocent man have another chance.

"I don't understand why you'd object," she said.

But Rumpz said some important principles are at stake.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee's unprecedented order last January to test the DNA amounts to an improper "reinvestigation into the guilt of a state inmate," Rumpz said.

"In fact, this inmate never claimed he was innocent until he reached the federal courthouse door," she said.

"It is our belief the district court was without authority to issue such an order . . . The district court clearly abused its discretion," she argued. In a criminal case, "the trial is the main event," and then there must be some finality, Rumpz said.

She also warned that if "it can be done in this case, it can be done in every single case."

Cherrix, 27, of Chincoteague, was sentenced to death in March 1998 in Accomack County for the slaying of Tessa VanHart, 23. His lawyers want the test conducted to prove innocence so he can either gain relief in court or appeal to Gov. Jim Gilmore for clemency.

Cherrix was convicted of sodomizing VanHart, shooting her twice in the head and leaving her body in a car after luring her to a remote house by calling for a pizza delivery. A key piece of evidence against him is a disputed confession to police.

The Attorney General's Office says it was a "detailed confession," while Cherrix's attorneys contend the confession was "fabricated."

Cherrix's attorneys, Michele J. Brace, of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, and Robert L. Jenkins Jr., argue that while DNA testing on seminal fluid taken from the victim's body when the autopsy was conducted failed to produce results, advancements in technology may now produce results.

It is not known when the three-judge panel will rule. The panel granted an emergency stay of Lee's order in February so the state could have a chance to argue against Lee's ruling.

No execution date has been set for Cherrix.

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The Washington Post, August 28, 2000
© 2000 Washington Post
Plea Bargain Frees Man in Rape Case

A Fairfax man who was given a new rape trial because a jury that convicted him was not allowed to learn that his accuser had given testimony with "striking similarities" at the rape trial of a different man is now out of prison after a second jury could not reach a verdict on most of the charges. Though Alexandria prosecutors threatened to try Ronald Jackson Brown, 46, a third time, they agreed to drop rape and sodomy charges if he pleaded guilty to abduction. He did so, received a three-year sentence instead of the original 20-year term, and was released in April based on the time he had already served.

Brown's attorneys say those results show that the Virginia Court of Appeals was right to throw out Brown's conviction and allow them to tell a new jury about the woman's testimony in the 1989 trial of Jerry E. Glymph, who was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In both cases, the woman said she drove the man around in her car and spent time talking, drinking and socializing with him. She also testified that in both incidents, she asked and was allowed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the attack.

Telling the jury of the similarities was vital, said Robert L. Jenkins, who represented Brown at the second trial and the plea. "I spoke with one of the jurors. In his opinion, [the new information] was very persuasive as to the victim's credibility. It cast some doubt, and they were not inclined to convict."

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The Washington Post, August 19, 2000
© 2000 Washington Post
ATF Seals Case Against Ex-Convict; Alexandria Man With Drug Record Gets Life for Gun Theft
Originally Printed At: METRO; Pg. B03
AUTHOR(S): Brooke A. Masters

For years, Anthony Virgil Jasper was a thorn in the side of Alexandria police, racking up 37 arrests and 11 convictions, mostly for drug offenses.

Then last winter, Alexandria got help. Jasper and an accomplice, police said, broke into a Springfield home, beat the two occupants and stole 18 high-powered guns. That caught the attention of several federal and local law enforcement agencies. Together, they combed the streets for the robbers and recovered eight of the guns.

Yesterday, a federal judge sent Jasper, 40, away for life for federal weapons violations.

"Justice was served," said Harold Scott, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which handled the federal part of the investigation. "This is the type of case that ATF should be working and we are working: dangerous people who are trafficking in firearms."

Jasper, who maintained that he was innocent of the home invasion, plans to appeal, his attorney, Robert L. Jenkins, said after the hearing in Alexandria federal court. The conviction was based largely on the testimony of the other man charged in the crime, Antoine E. Porter, who pleaded guilty to robbery and is serving a 20-year sentence.

At the sentencing hearing, Jasper told U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris: "I'd like to say to the people that were the victims, I'm sorry for what they went through. I never gave myself a chance growing up. I guess when I get to prison I can work on that."

According to court testimony and records, he cannot read and has had a drug problem for years.

When Porter recruited Jasper to commit the Springfield robbery, the pair knew they had a chance to strike it big, said Fairfax Detective C.L. Toney. Porter, a low-level dealer in Alexandria, had sold drugs to the gun owner and knew about his collection.

On Nov. 6, the two men terrorized the gun owner and his female roommate and dragged them into the bathroom. Jasper then pistol-whipped the man and, at gunpoint, forced him to open the safe where he kept the guns. Their haul of 18 real guns and six look-alikes included AK-47s, an M-1 and several high-powered rifles.

Investigators got a major break two days later when a D.C. police officer on routine patrol walked past an open room at a motel on Bladensburg Road NE and saw a cache of guns. Police recovered eight weapons and learned that the room was registered to Porter. Alexandria police picked him up a few days later; they arrested Jasper in late December, Alexandria Detective Ed Sarra said.

Ten guns remain on the street, probably in the hands of the people who bought them illegally from the robbers, police said.

For years, Alexandria police have considered Jasper, who lives in the city, trouble. "People were always afraid of Jasper. He's a violent guy," Sarra said. "In jail, if he sits down, you don't sit at his table without his permission. When we interviewed him, we could feel the contempt."

Added Scott: "That's the really frightening aspect of this whole case: A guy who is this violent and with his record with nearly 20 guns."

CORRECTION-DATE: August 20, 2000

CORRECTION:
In an early edition Aug. 19, an article about an Alexandria man sentenced for weapons violations incorrectly attributed his statement to the court. It was the defendant, Anthony Virgil Jasper, who apologized to his victims and who, according to court testimony and records, cannot read and has had a drug problem for years.

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The Washington Post, September 1, 1999
© 1999 Washington Post
Jury Deadlocks in Second Trial of Man Accused of Attempted Rape
Originally Printed At: METRO; Pg. B09
AUTHOR(S): Patricia Davis

An Alexandria judge declared a mistrial late last night for a 45-year-old Fairfax man who was being retried in an attempted rape case in which he was convicted in 1997.

The defendant, Ronald Jackson Brown, has served more than 2 1/2 years of a 20-year prison term.

After nine hours of deliberation, a jury convicted him of assault and battery--the only misdemeanor among six charges--and acquitted him of robbery. But the foreman said jurors were deadlocked on the attempted rape charge and three remaining felony charges.

Chief Circuit Court Judge Donald M. Haddock imposed the jury's sentence of six months on the assault charge. But it was unclear what the outcome will be for Brown.

If Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Molly Frio decides not to try him for a third time, Brown, who has AIDS, could be released early next year, after serving time for probation violations.

Although Brown will remain in jail for now, his attorneys declared victory. "He served 2 1/2 years on charges he only got six months on," defense attorney Kenneth D. Bynum told the judge in asking, unsuccessfully, that Brown be released on bond.

"Mr. Brown has always maintained that he did not commit these offenses," defense attorney Robert L. Jenkins Jr. said after the verdict was announced. "He says he's not bitter. He just wants to go on with his battle with his disease."

Brown contracted the AIDS virus before the alleged attack on the woman occurred.

The Virginia Court of Appeals in February ordered a new trial for Brown, saying the jury that convicted him should have been told that his accuser, now 54, gave testimony with "striking similarities" in another rape case almost a decade earlier.

Brown's previous attorney argued that the woman fabricated her version of the May 4, 1997, encounter and that her 1989 rape case would have helped cast doubt on her credibility.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed that the testimony was admissible, overruling a decision by Haddock that the evidence was barred by Virginia's rape shield law.

That law, which limits the right of defense attorneys to question accusers about their prior sexual conduct, did not apply in this case, the panel said.

In closing arguments yesterday, Jenkins called the woman's 1989 rape sad and unfortunate. But he said it was "incredible" how the woman's testimony about the first rape she said she experienced, in 1989, closely matched the testimony in Brown's trial.

In both cases, Jenkins told the jury, the woman said she was abducted in her car and fell asleep in the attacker's presence. She also maintained that both rapists had allowed her to go to the bathroom during the incident. He said the woman cried rape only when police showed up in a known drug area, where Brown had gone with her in her car to purchase drugs.

The defense rested its case in the two-day trial yesterday without calling a witness. The woman took the stand Monday and told the jury that Brown had struck her on the arm and leg with a chain. "He was drunk, he was vulgar, he was hostile," Frio said. "She couldn't stop crying. She was terrified."

Frio said Brown terrorized the woman for more than two hours in her Alexandria apartment, where he sodomized her, struck her with a chain and robbed her.

The prosecutor argued that the facts in both rape cases "could not be more dissimilar," noting that the first assailant had pulled a gun on the accuser and taken her to his home, where he raped her. Frio said that Brown, whom his accuser had met at a homeless shelter, went home with the woman after offering to help her retrieve her belongings out of storage, stayed for dinner and beat her with the chain before sexually assaulting her.

But Jenkins argued that if his client was a rapist, then "he is the most caring and sensitive rapist there is." He noted that Brown had fetched a pain reliever for the woman that night and had worn condoms three times that night because of concerns that she might contract the AIDS virus. "What rapist would do that?" he asked.

His attorneys said that Brown faced a possibility of life without parole on the six charges--attempted rape, sodomy, object sexual penetration, robbery, abduction and assault. Because he was acquitted of rape at his first trial, prosecutors could pursue only a charge of attempted rape at the second trial.

Had he been convicted of any of the felonies, Brown, who received a diagnosis of AIDS in the last year, faced almost certain death behind bars, his attorneys said.

"I knew if I'd stayed there another year, I'd have died," Brown told the judge before he was sentenced last night, saying he had learned from his time behind bars. "I don't hate nobody, 'cause if I do that, I'll be right back where I started 2 1/2 years ago."

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