SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — A court in El Salvador sentenced seven gang members to up to 30 years Friday for the notorious "black widows" killings, in which women were forced to marry men who were then killed to collect on life insurance policies.
Prosecutors accused the defendants of recruiting women to perform domestic work and then having them wed the victims, who were tricked into thinking the women were U.S. citizens and that marrying them would let them emigrate legally.
The "black widows," members of the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang, were found guilty of human trafficking and illicit association, but absolved of fraud and propositioning homicide. The two ringleaders of the group were sentenced to 30 years, while the rest got 15 or 25 years.
The two women involved testified at the trial and are now under official protection against reprisals. One recounted how she was forced to get married in 2014 to Edgar Gutiérrez, who was murdered two months later.
After the weddings, the two men they married were persuaded to take out insurance policies by telling them it was a requirement for processing a U.S. spousal visa. Soon after, the women were forced to return to the gang members while the men were killed.
The women were then made to claim the bodies at the morgue, file the necessary paperwork, collect the insurance payout and hand it over, accompanied at every step by gang members.
Officials learned about the deadly scam when one of the women escaped and reported it. Authorities suspect there may have been more victims, but that was never confirmed.