Charges Dropped Against Suspect in Gang Killing, But Prosecutors Could Restart Case
Case against second MS-13 suspect moves forward with judge finding ‘sufficient probable cause’
The Montgomery County District Court in Rockville
Murder charges were dropped Friday against an 18-year-old who was accused of participating in the deadly stabbing of a Silver Spring man in a local park, though prosecutors could refile charges later.
David Lagunes Bolanos, then 17, was arrested Oct. 18 and charged with the murder of Cristopher Alfredo Funes Guerra, a 20-year-old from Silver Spring who was found dead in a stream by Long Branch-Arliss Neighborhood Park. He had been stabbed more than 80 times, according to police.
Another suspect, 18-year-old Jesus Ponce Flores, also has been arrested in the case. Police say both suspects are members of the MS-13 gang.
Assistant State’s Attorney Teresa Casafranca said in Montgomery County District Court Friday that prosecutors had dropped charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, but noted that the State’s Attorney’s Office was waiting a number of forensic tests to be concluded.
That doesn’t mean he’s being released, however. Lagunes Bolanos, from Silver Spring, is still being held without bail for other charges of assault and burglary for an incident that allegedly occurred in Silver Spring in October. Murder charges can be refiled.
Seth Zucker, another assistant state’s attorney, said in an interview he could not comment on the specific case, he said that, in general, the office “can rebring charges based on additional evidence.”
Victor Del Pino, who is representing Lagunes Bolanos through the public defender’s office, said he would hold off to see how prosecutors proceed or the results of the forensic tests before commenting.
“I don’t want to necessarily scream victory at this point,” he said in an interview. “That’s why I have to just wait to see if I can make a statement about what’s going on.”
Prosecuting MS-13 murder cases—which often involve multiple participants acting in a secluded area—has presented challenges in the past. In March, Montgomery County prosecutors dropped murder charges against three men accused of a 2016 killing in Gaithersburg, though the suspects are now facing federal kidnapping charges.
A number of high-profile cases allegedly involving MS-13 have come up in Montgomery, Frederick and Anne Arundel counties in recent months. Three people are in custody awaiting trial for the death of a man whose body was found in Wheaton Regional Park in September.
Jesus Ponce Flores. Police are not releasing a photo of David Lagunes Bolanos because he was a minor at the time of his arrest. Via MCPD
Meanwhile, the case against Ponce Flores moved forward Friday, about an hour after prosecutors held off on the charges against his codefendant. He appeared for a preliminary hearing, in which the judge determined there was enough probable cause to continue the case to trial.
Det. Michael Carin, who works in the Montgomery County police homicide section, testified about the evidence against Ponce Flores, which included unnamed witnesses, surveillance video and jeans with a brown stain that might or might not have been blood.
Carin said Funes Guerra left home the night of Sept. 2 and never came back. On Sept. 6, police found his body with many stab wounds.
Two witnesses—whom police have not named—directed detectives to Lagunes Bolanos and Ponce Flores.
Security footage from a 7-Eleven on Sept. 2 shows Funes Guerra with three other people.
“All were talking about smoking marijuana,” Carin said. “The victim went out to smoke and never returned.”
Carin said that the security footage also showed Ponce Flores at the 7-Eleven that night, wearing jeans that were “distinctive.” He did not describe them further.
When police arrested Ponce Flores in mid-October, he was wearing the same distinctive jeans, which had a large brown stain. Carin said tests had not yet determined whether the stain was blood.
“So as we sit here today, you do not know that was blood,” Mary Siegfried, Ponce Flores’ lawyer, said. “It could have been mud.”
“It didn’t look like mud,” Carin responded.
Siegfried said the test to determine if a stain is blood is “very simple, but it’s been a month and there’s no indication of blood.”
She also attacked the testimony’s reliance on anonymous witnesses, asking Corin if he knew if the witnesses were part of the “criminal milieu,” if they had ever lied to police before and whether they were in custody for a crime when they made the statements to police. Corin answered “I don’t know” to those questions.
“In order to determine probable cause, a judge has to determine if the information is reliable,” Siegfried said. “Right now, you know nothing about these witnesses. The state has provided no information.”
Casafranca responded that was more than enough probable cause, referring again to what she called the “brown bloodlike stains” and defending the use of the unnamed witnesses.
“When the counsel argued sources have to be corroborated, that is absolutely not the law in the state of Maryland,” she said, pointing to precedent that the state’s case involving anonymous witnesses is taken “at face value” in hearings to determine probable cause.
Judge Rand Gelber ultimately sided with the prosecution. “I find there’s sufficient probable cause to proceed with this case,” he said.
Ponce Flores is scheduled to return to District Court on Jan. 5. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.