MS-13 gang member convicted in 2001 rape, murder of 13-year-old girl

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Jorge Palacios, right, sits with lawyer Lawrence Forbes during closing arguments in his trial on March 1, 2018. (Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

LOS ANGELES — An MS-13 gang member has been convicted in the 2001 murder of a 13-year-old Whittier girl.

A jury found Jorge Palacios  guilty to one count of first-degree murder, also finding true special circumstance allegations that the crime occurred in the commission of rape, lewd acts on a child and kidnapping. He also was convicted of one count of kidnapping to commit rape.

The jury found true gang and gun allegations.

Sentencing is scheduled for April 11. Palacios faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A separate jury is considering the same charges against Rogelio Contreras, Melvin Sandoval and Santos Grimaldi. Grimaldi’s charges include an allegation of personally using a gun.

On June 28, 2001, the naked body of Jacqueline Piazza was found in Elysian Park. She had been shot twice in the head.

Her murder remained unsolved for nearly a decade, until the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery and Homicide Division, working with the Gang and Narcotics Division, uncovered new information and presented it to the District Attorney’s Hardcore Gang Division. An indictment was unsealed in June 2012 charging the four men in the crime.

Prosecutors said the defendants kidnapped the victim the night before she was found and drove her to a remote area of the park, where they allegedly sexually assaulted and killed her.

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