A 21-year-old El Salvadoran national was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Wednesday for his part in hacking a man to death with a machete in Albemarle County in July 2017.
Walter Antonio Argueta Amaya was ordered by Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Humes Franklin Jr. to serve 15 years of a 40-year sentence for first-degree murder and 15 years of a 40-year sentence for murder by lynching. The sentences will be served one after the other for a total of 30 years in prison.
Amaya also was sentenced to 10 years for abduction and five years for criminal gang participation. Both sentences were suspended.
Amaya, who is an undocumented immigrant, will be eligible for deportation upon release from prison and could serve the remaining 65 years of his sentence should he come back into the United States.
Amaya is one of four members of the MS-13 gang who pleaded guilty to killing Marvin Joel Rivera Guevara, 24, whose badly mutilated body was found in Moore’s Creek near the Woolen Mills neighborhood on July 4, 2017.
Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci told Franklin that Amaya’s guilty plea showed acceptance of responsibility.
“Still, the offense requires a clear and determinate response,” Tracci said. “We need to send the message that gang violence won’t be tolerated in Albemarle County.”
Tracci also summarized for Franklin the victim statements written by Guevara’s family members. Tracci said family members declined to make the statements in court because of emotional trauma and fear for their safety.
Tracci said family members described Guevara as a hard worker who wanted a better life for himself and family and who put work, family and church first. He said they were shocked that a gang-related killing could happen in the United States.
Guevara was also an El Salvadoran national and undocumented immigrant, but he was not associated with any gang, according to court records.
Tracci told the court that MS-13 is known for using extreme violence in killings as a way to spread fear and control territory.
According to court records and testimony in previous hearings, Guevara was targeted by the gang because he made a comment to a fellow employee at a Charlottesville restaurant that MS-13 did not make the rules in the U.S. The comment was interpreted as disrespect for the gang.
According to court records, Guevara drove to Woolen Mills on July 3, 2017, with work colleague and MS-13 gang member Juan Carlos Argueta, 19, under the guise of meeting women.
When they arrived at Woolen Mills, Guevara and Argueta were met by Amaya, who had traveled from Northern Virginia to Charlottesville to participate in the killing, as well as gang members Jose Luis Escobar-Umana, 23, and Juan Carlos Zelaya, 19.
Escobar-Umana forced Guevara at gunpoint to walk toward the creek. He was then struck by a machete. That blow was followed by at least 144 others until the machete handle busted off the blade, according to court records.
The hacking mutilated Guevara’s body so badly that he could not be identified by family and DNA testing had to be used, according to the Virginia Medical Examiner.
The gang members then drove Guevara’s vehicle to Ingleridge Farm Road in Albemarle County, where they set it on fire, according to previous testimony.
Argueta, Escobar-Umana and Zelaya are also El Salvadoran nationals and undocumented immigrants. Escobar-Umana pleaded guilty to the same charges as Amaya and is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 14.
Argueta and Zelaya both pleaded guilty to gang participation and lynching in Guevara’s killing in exchange for dropping first-degree murder and abduction charges. Argueta is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 28 and Zelaya on Feb. 4.
The lynching statute allows murder charges to be filed against every person involved in a mob, group or gang action that inflicts violence on another person resulting in death. This is the first time the statute has been used in Albemarle County, according to Tracci.