Maryland killer who stabbed friend and cut out his liver receives life in prison

July 15 at 4:48 PM
What Mauricio Morales-Caceres did amounted to a level of depravity rarely seen by investigators: Armed with a 15-inch butcher knife, he stabbed and slashed a friend 89 times, pulled out his liver, and left it on the dead man’s chest.

On Friday, the 24-year-old was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole after a hearing in Montgomery County court.

In the lead-up to sentencing, new documents showed how in the days after the killing, Morales-Caceres didn’t think he’d done anything wrong.

He made his way to a favorite taco foodtruck where he’d often hung out with the victim. The owner asked Morales-Caceres where his friend was.

“He just laughed,” prosecutors wrote.

A few days later, when detectives solved the case, arrested Morales-Caceres, and took photos of him, he smiled for their camera. And after being placed in a jail, he wrote graffiti for the deadly street gang — MS-13 — on his cell walls.

“The defendant,” prosecutors wrote, “is maniacal and inherently dangerous.”

At his sentencing hearing, they asked Circuit Judge Mary Beth McCormick for the life term with no chance of parole. Morales-Caceres’s attorneys, citing his youth and limited criminal record prior to the murder, sought a term between 25 and 35 years.

The court documents fall short of explaining a motive for the Dec. 23, 2014, killing of Oscar Navarro, 36, in a Silver Spring townhouse–leaving open whether Morales-Caceres had a clear reason. The case also adds to the violence committed by individuals county law enforcement officials say are associated with resurging crimes committed by MS-13.

The documents, including those filed by Morales-Caceres’s attorney, establish that he was exposed to harsh violence growing up in El Salvador. When he was about eight, a relative “attempted to murder each and every member of his family with in a vicious attack with a machete,” defense attorney Emily Beckman wrote. “Mr. Morales-Caceres sustained a laceration during the onslaught.”

He immigrated illegally into the United States in 2013, making his way to Montgomery and by 2014 was associated with MS-13, according to prosecutors.

That year, police were called about a possible fight in progress at an apartment in Silver Spring. They found Morales-Caceres and two others arguing outdoors, told them to put their hands behind their heads, but got no response as the three continued to yell and shove each other, according to court records.

The officers eventually got Morales-Caceres into handcuffs and spoke to the person who’d called police. He said Morales-Caceres and his brother had been arguing over a cigarette, he’d told them to calm down, and the pair then turned on him, according to a police account in court records.

Officers charged Morales-Caceres with being drunk in public, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He was released from jail on his own recognizance, and the case later was dropped when he agreed to perform community service, according to court records.

Later that year, in December, he got “503” tattooed on his calf. Many members of MS-13 identify with the numbers, according to prosecutors, because they are the country calling code for El Salvador. Investigators said they also later found MS-related text messages and images on his cell phone.

At Morales-Caceres’s trial, in April, for the vicious murder of Navarro inside Navarro’s townhouse, prosecutors proved the attack was premeditated. In the court documents filed for sentencing, they described it as an ambush.

“Once inside Oscar’s house, the defendant was friendly enough that Oscar trusted the defendant and turned his back on him,” Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Chaikin wrote. “The defendant reached into his clothing and grabbed the knife.”

His subsequent attack and mutilation of Navarro — followed by the cavalier reaction in the days afterward — have wracked Navarro’s family, including his children, now 11- and 12-years old.

“They’re kind of healing,” Navarro’s widow said in an interview Thursday, explaining how she has worked to shield them from the gruesome details of the crime. “To really know what happened would devastate them right now.”

The woman, who asked not to be named to protect her safety, said their daughter just finished elementary school. “Mom, I really wish Daddy was there to see me graduate,” she said.

The girl cheers herself up by looking at photos and videos of her dad on her mother’s phone.

“Mom, can we just look at all the little pictures again,” the girl will say, according to her mother.

She said that her son doesn’t talk much about his father’s death. Earlier this year, he was riding in their car and started to cry. “I don’t want to play soccer anymore,” he told his mom, “because daddy isn’t here to play with me and teach me.”

She pulled over, stopped the car, and hugged him.

The children wrote letters about their father to McCormick, the judge, as part of the victim-impact statements submitted for sentencing.

“I just wish I can see him one more time,” Navarro’s daughter wrote, “and grab him so hard and never let go.”

His son spoke about the game his dad taught him.

“I stopped playing soccer for a while,” the boy wrote. “But then I realized what would my dad want me to do. So I started to play soccer again for him.”

Their mom said she was not certain she could speak at the sentencing: “I want to, but it’s hard to talk about Oscar without crying. But I’ll try.”

Nelson Navarro, Oscar’s brother, “This guy really has demons, and he belongs in prison. I want to make sure my brother is the last victim to suffer by his hands.”

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