Venus Iraheta, 18, of Alexandria, pleaded guilty in January to charges of first-degree murder, abduction and gang participation in the death of Damaris Reyes Rivas, 15, last year. Iraheta disappeared for a month afterward; her return was captured live on TV.
WASHINGTON — The teenager who disappeared for a month last year, only to be charged with a brutal gang-related murder on her return, was sentenced to 40 years in prison Friday.
Venus Iraheta, 18, of Alexandria, pleaded guilty in January to charges of first-degree murder, abduction and gang participation in the death of Damaris Reyes Rivas, 15, last year. She faced a maximum sentence of life in prison on the murder charge, 10 years each on the others.
Iraheta was 17 when she disappeared for a month in January 2017. Her return was captured live in February of that year while her mother was being interviewed by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Washington.
By the next morning, she was one of 10 people ultimately charged in connection with the death of Rivas, of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her body was found near Lake Accotink Park, in Springfield, Virginia, in February 2017; the police said at the time that they believed she’d been killed in January.
Iraheta confessed last January to stabbing Rivas several times, saying Rivas was targeted because the group thought she had lured Christian Sosa Rivas, an MS-13 clique leader and Iraheta’s boyfriend, to his death.
Sosa Rivas’ body was found in the Potomac River near Dumfries earlier that month. Six people were arrested in his death.
In a statement and an interview with WTOP in January, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh laid out the details of the murder:
Reyes Rivas had run away from home; her mother reported her missing Dec. 10, 2016. On Jan. 8, 2017, one of the other defendants, Jose Castillo Rivas, whom prosecutors said Reyes Rivas knew, picked her up and brought her to Lake Accotink Park, in Springfield, Virginia. The rest of the 10 defendants were waiting.
Prosecutors said Iraheta hit Reyes Rivas in the face, knocking her down. Video from Iraheta’s cellphone shows the gang members demanding information about Sosa Rivas’ death, prosecutors said, as well as another defendant, Jose Torres Cerrato, “telling the group they have to torture her first because she had to tell them everything.”
Iraheta told Reyes Rivas “she was going to die that day,” Morrogh said in the statement, and the group forced Reyes Rivas to stand in snow without her shoes or shirt in order to feel the same cold Sosa Rivas did when his body was dumped in the Potomac River, while they demanded information about Sosa Rivas’ death.
They then brought her back into Castillo Rivas’ vehicle, to take Reyes Rivas to another location nearby. After they got there, the entire group attacked her.
Iraheta demanded to know whether she had slept with Sosa Rivas, Morrogh said in the statement. Also, Iraheta cut a tattoo he had given Reyes Rivas off her hand, told her she would “see her in hell,” and stabbed her in the neck and chest several times, Morrogh said in the statement. Others stabbed her as well, and the video was then sent to MS-13 leadership in El Salvador “for promotions within the ranks of the gang.”
‘My heart’s with them’
After the sentencing, Morrogh said he was “satisfied” with what he described as “a substantial sentence,” saying Iraheta’s youth made a sentence of less than life “appropriate.”
He hoped the sentence would have an effect, though: “I typically don’t argue to send a message in criminal cases; I focus on the individual defendant,” Morrogh said. But he wanted gangs and potential gang members to get the message that “If you commit a crime like this in Northern Virginia, we’re gonna come after you hard and pursue severe sentences.”
Morrogh said that Rivas’s mother told the court her family was destroyed. “I hope time will grant them some peace. … My heart’s with them always.”
He went on to say she had “a strong faith in God and called her “a great woman. She’s really hard-working … 99.9 percent of folks who come up from Central America come here for a better life. She worked hard to support her family … I’m proud to know her.”
Iraheta was remorseful in court, tearfully telling Reyes Rivas’ family that the murder was the biggest mistake of her life, but Morrogh pointed to her lack of remorse at the time she confessed and the fact that “she left the body outside for over a month” while Rivas’s mother was looking for her. “I thought that was callous. …
“I recognize she’s a teenager and I factor that in, but this crime is so bad that it’s difficult to have any sympathy for her in that moment.”
That said, the prosecutor said “There’s no joy in something like this; there’s no winners.”
“You’ve got a 15-year-old girl dead and we’ve got [an 18-year-old] on her way to the penitentiary. And the defendant’s mother didn’t do anything wrong; she’s another hard-working immigrant who came here for a better life. … There’s no joy in it.” Referring to the sentence, he said, “I didn’t like to do it.”
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.
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