A federal judge replaced the defense attorney representing the Roberto Acosta
-- the MS-13 gang informant who was convicted of lying to his handlers -- and urged attorneys on both sides to consider the likelihood that Acosta will be killed if he is deported to Honduras after his prison sentence.
Judge Charles Breyer also said that Acosta and his family -- who the government had relocated to the United States once Acosta signed on as an informant -- were kicked out the witness protection program after his conviction this summer. Acosta now faces a very uncertain future.
Acosta was scheduled for sentencing in federal court for lying to his handlers
about the number of people he'd killed in his native Honduras while part of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, gang. As we wrote about in an April cover story
, Acosta had given information about the San Francisco branch of MS-13 to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for six years, including recording gang meetings, until he admitted to federal prosecutors in February that he had murdered five people in Honduras and ordered the death of three more.
According to court documents, Acosta is has been "green-lighted" by his own gang in Honduras for "mishandling" some of the gang's money while he was acting as treasurer. The gang killed his father, brother, and sister, and Acosta fled to the United States.
Being a snitch is a death sentence in the MS-13 gang, and his former homeys are waiting for him to return to his homeland. Breyer said that at the end of Acosta's prison sentence, "the defendant would, in all likelihood, be deported and, in all likelihood, be killed. It doesn't seem like a case where you should be arguing for [the amount of time he'll be in prison], since it's really about the defendant's life."
Breyer postponed the sentencing, citing the fact that neither the U.S. attorney or Acosta's counsel, Elena Condes, had included the probability of his murder in Honduras in their sentencing recommendations. Breyer then replaced Condes with defense attorney Dennis Riordan, who was sitting in the courtroom.
He then said that the government and defense attorneys miscalculated their recommended sentences. The U.S. Attorney's office had wanted five years, and Condes had argued for Acosta being released from prison immediately.
"If counsel would have bothered to read the guidelines, they'd concur their analysis of the sentence was inadequate," Breyer scolded.
He said there was a question of how Acosta's criminal history in Honduras would play into the sentencing: The self-confessed murders didn't occur in the jurisdiction of the United States, and they never were charged in Honduras. Also, prior criminal acts can only be considered if they are similar to the activity Acosta was convicted of in the current case. In this case, Acosta was convicted for lying to the government, not for killing anyone here.
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