One of the five alleged MS-13 gang members involved in the death of 17-year-old Raymond Wood was in court Tuesday for the first day of his trial.
Victor Rodas is charged with first degree murder, robbery, abduction for pecuniary benefit, and participation in a criminal act in association with a criminal street gang.
He pleaded not guilty to all 4 charges.
Raymond Wood, 17, was found dead in the 1700 block of Roaring Run Road in Bedford County on March 27, 2017.
The prosecution alleges Raymond Wood was lured from his home for a drug deal, saying he sold marijuana. From there, prosecutors said Rodas and others drove him to a dark, desolate road.
The prosecution said he was choked out in the car, then taken from the car and stabbed 29 times along the side of the road. His neck was slit and his right hand was chopped off.
“He was murdered on the side of a dark, lonely country road here in Bedford County,” Commonwealth’s attorney, Wes Nance, told jurors.
The defense argued Rodas picked Wood up and that Wood got in the car willingly. He then says that Rodas dropped Wood and the others off, but had no knowledge of what was going to happen to Wood and did not take part in his stabbing death.
The prosecution told jurors the motive for the crime was that Rodas and the others were alleged MS-13 gang members and wanted to take over a drug operation of dealing marijuana and cocaine. They said Wood and Rodas, who were known to each other because Wood sold pot to Rodas, had exchanged threats via text message in the days leading up to Wood’s murder.
“There was actually a couple reasons that Raymond Wood had to die,” prosecutor Nance told jurors. “Part of it was that he threatened Victor Rodas, he went against his reputation, and you do not threaten a member of MS-13 without gravely violent consequences,” Nance said.
Wood’s mother was the first witness called and she testified to seeing some of Wood’s belongings, including his cell phone, in the yard on the night that he was picked up and eventually murdered. She also found a black knit ski-mask in the yard that did not belong to her son. She described her son to jurors, saying, “His one passion that he loved most was spending time with family.”
According to court documents, Danny Ventura, of Maryland drove three other alleged MS-13 gang members: Lasando Vasquez, Cristian Sanchez-Gomez, and Kevin Soto-Bonilla from Maryland to Lynchburg to meet with Rodas and Jose Coreas-Ventura.
Authorities testified in court in August that they pulled Rodas over for a traffic stop 10 minutes after a call came in from a woman who said she spotted a body, then a car speed off quickly from the scene.
When they searched the vehicle, they found 20-year-old Victor Rodas in the driver’s seat. They also found a pair of shoes. Wood was not wearing shoes when his body was found.
Authorities argued they had enough probable cause to detain Rodas.
Defense attorney Matthew Pack alleged that Coreas-Ventura was the one who ordered Rodas to drive the car that night and Rodas complied because he was afraid of the alleged gang member.
“Typically, if someone offends a member of [MS-13], they go to court. And I can tell you court isn’t like this place. Court is the gang comes along and smacks you,” Pack told jurors. Still, he said Rodas had no knowledge of what would happen to Wood and thought Coreas-Ventura and the others were simply going to rough him up.
Evidence in court revealed Wood and Rodas knew each other, and a series of text messages from Rodas setting up a fake drug deal lured Wood outside his home.
Wood was then abducted and taken to Roaring Run Road where authorities found him with at least 29 wounds to his body, his hand cut off, and neck slit.
Rodas is the only one of the five alleged MS-13 gang members to be charged with first-degree murder.The others have been charged with capital murder in connection with the case.
His trial began Tuesday, October 16 at 9 a.m.
WFXR will provide full coverage of this case.