The only question to be resolved at today’s sentencing of a local MS-13 gang leader may be whether he gets back-to-back life terms or is allowed to serve two at a time.
It is a distinction of little or no consequence for Jose Armando Bran, said to have an IQ in the mentally disabled range, since he will have to serve at least one life term without parole.
Bran, 30, will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne this afternoon for ordering the July 24, 2011, murder of Osbin Noel Hernandez-Gonzales, 18, at Pony Pasture on the James River in South Richmond and the attempted murder of another man who survived a brutal stabbing.
Noting that the U.S. Justice Department did not seek the death penalty, prosecutors are seeking two consecutive life terms while Bran’s lawyers are asking that any sentence beyond the one mandatory life term he faces be imposed concurrently.
In a sentencing memorandum last month, prosecutors wrote, “Individuals who would consider joining or aiding MS-13 and members and associates of MS-13 must be deterred. MS-13 is a nihilistic gang that encourages and celebrates violence.
“Bran is a member of MS-13 who was the leader of the Richmond MS-13 Sailors set. He has proven that (he) is capable of organizing others to commit the most violent acts,” they argued.
Prosecutors said MS-13 is a transnational gang formed in the 1980s that is a persistent threat to the Hispanic communities around the country.
According to Bran’s lawyers, testing of Bran by a bilingual neuropsychologist yielded IQ scores of 60, 61 and 75. A score of 70 or below is one of several factors in determining whether one’s intelligence is low enough to be considered disabled.
His lawyers argue in court papers that there is abundant evidence that intellectually disabled people act on impulse rather than premeditated plans and in group settings they are followers rather than leaders.
“While the evidence indicates that Mr. Bran ordered the murder, and approved the plan for the stabbing, he did not devise the plan or supervise the activity in any way. In addition, both decisions were made on the spur of the moment,” they wrote.
People found to meet the legal definition of “mentally retarded” are not eligible for the death penalty. The U.S. Attorney’s office has declined to say why the death penalty was not sought in Bran’s case.
In a trial this year, he was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit murder in the aid of racketeering, murder in the aid of racketeering, maiming in the aid of racketeering and a firearms charge.
Hernandez-Gonzales, a member of Bran’s MS-13 Sailor set, was suspected of cooperating with the Latin Kings, a rival gang.
He was shot to death near the Huguenot Bridge off Riverside Drive by two juveniles who took turns shooting him as part of their gang initiation, and some of those involved met with Bran at a club afterward to celebrate.
In another attack ordered by Bran, Florentino Ayala was brutally stabbed Jan. 14, 2012, but escaped and survived.
Others sentenced earlier in the case in federal court are Michael Arevalo, who received life plus 10 years and his girlfriend, Karen San Jose, who received 20 years.
The two juvenile gunmen, Jeremy Oto Soto and Luis Osvaldo Ramirez-Cabello, both now 18 years old, were sentenced to 18 and 34 years respectively in Richmond Circuit Court.
According to his lawyers, Bran, a native of El Salvador, came to the U.S. when he was 9 years old and is a legal permanent resident. He was held back in school several times because of his learning difficulty , wrote his lawyers.
His family moved to Richmond after his father died and he joined MS-13 in 2010, where a probation officer said Bran told him that, “‘It made him feel like part of another family.’ ”
“As the court is well aware, life in the federal system means life … Jose Bran will never walk outside the walls of a federal prison facility. He will not be able to participate in his son’s life,” wrote Bran’s lawyers.
They argue the law supports the two life terms be served at the same time instead of one after another as sought by the government.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors disagreed.
“Bran, more than 10 years older than the juveniles in the conspiracy, used his age and his leadership position not only to commit the crimes of murder and maiming, but also to direct others, including juveniles, to participate in those heinous crimes,” they wrote.
They added, “Bran’s direction of the murder and the attempted murder has devastated the lives of his victims.”