HOUSTON — A teenage girl who faced a murder charge after fatally stabbing a 15-year-old member of the notorious MS-13 gang during a brawl at a park pleaded guilty Friday to a lesser crime, avoiding prison time.
Ashley Benton, 17, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors. She was given five years deferred adjudication probation, meaning if she completes her sentence without problems, her conviction will be erased.
Prosecutors say Benton murdered Gabriel Granillo by plunging a double-bladed knife into his heart during a June 2006 fight. Kent Schaffer, Benton's attorney, portrayed her as a scared girl caught up in gang violence who stabbed Granillo while trying to protect herself after he swung a bat at her.
Benton would have faced up to life in prison if she had been convicted of murder at her January retrial. Her first trial earlier this year ended in a mistrial when a jury failed to reach a verdict in three days of deliberations.
Benton has said she wasn't a part of Crazy Crew, the gang that was battling MS-13 members that day, but was friends with several members.
"She did what she had to do on (that day) to live. She defended herself," Schaffer said. "We're happy we came up with a resolution we believe to be fair."
Benton was 16 when she stabbed Granillo but was certified to stand trial as an adult.
Prosecutors had contended Granillo was running away from the fight when he was stabbed by Benton.
In addition to probation, the plea agreement calls for Benton to pay Granillo's funeral expenses, perform 300 hours of community service, get a high school diploma or GED, and be subject to drug and alcohol testing.
Prosecutor Mia Magness said authorities felt the plea agreement was the best way to conclude the case.
"I don't think Gabriel Granillo's family will ever be satisfied with any outcome," she said. "This was the right resolution."
MS-13 also is known as La Mara Salvatrucha, a Salvadoran gang that started in Los Angeles. It is one of the largest and most violent street gangs in the country and its activities have also been spread to Central America by deported members.
The gang is particularly violent, known for beheading enemies and staging attacks with grenades and machetes.