A contentious trial, which could put an alleged local gang leader behind bars for life, started at federal court in Richmond Monday. Prosecutors have charged Jose Bran with five felonies relating to gang participation.
The government maintains with this trial they're getting at the heart of the local MS-13 set through the man they say is its leader.
According to a prosecution gang expert, the group of MS-13 operating in the metro area is known as one of the most violent cliques. Sgt. Claudio Saa explained to advance to be the leader of the "sailor set" you must commit acts of brutality and once there, you order them.
That's what the feds say José Bran did.
The five felony charges he's facing deal with just two crimes. The first is the murder of Osbin Hernandez-Gonzales at Pony Pasture in the summer of 2011. Prosecutors say Bran ordered the shooting death as gang initiation for two people.
Then the government alleges in January of 2012, Bran also ordered an attack on another suspected rival gang member. This time, the victim, who was stabbed multiple times, survived and identified his attackers. According to court records, they then turned on Bran.
Defense attorneys maintain he is not the leader of the local MS-13 set, he never ordered the violence and he wasn't at either scene when the crimes took place. They point to other admitted gang members for those crimes and say those people are only testifying against Bran because they have plea deals.
The disputed allegation of whether or not Bran is the leader of the "sailors set" is key for both sides. The charges he's facing include murder, conspiracy to commit murder, maiming and a gun charge, all to aid racketeering. For legal purposes, that means the crimes were committed to further MS-13.
The judge told jurors Monday morning they should be prepared to hear this case possibly through next week.
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