The MS-13 gang trial heated up in federal court Thursday, with a government informer telling jurors that he was called a “snitch” and threatened yesterday before trial began. Carlos Garrieo said defendant Jonathan “Soldado” Ramirez threatened to make Garrieo “pay” for being a “snitch” while the pair were in the same lock-up.
The defense fought unsuccessfully to challenge the reliability of Garrieo’s claim. Lawyers said he could not accurately identify the voice he heard through the jail door telling him they would make his girlfriend “pay.”
Seven defendants, among 29 originally charged, are the first to go on trial in San Francisco’s largest federal gang trial in years. The seven are accused of four murders in 2008, assaults, extortion and a racketeering conspiracy in the city’s Mission District.
They were allegedly part of an MS13 clique called the 20th Street clique, affiliated with the violent international gang MS13, which began in El Salvador.
The months-long trial has been so combative that U.S. District Judge William Alsup expressed his frustration at the outset Thursday in a fight over an expert witness from Denmark. With jurors out of the courtroom Alsup said, “The lawyers in this group are the most contentious group I have seen in 40 years. It is like walking into a blast furnace every day.”
He ordered the government to make the Danish expert available next week while the defense prepares to question him about technology related to audio tapes, known as watermarking. Alsup also warned prosecutors they had an obligation to turn over any evidence potentially helpful to the defense with sufficient time for lawyers to make use of it at trial.
Once Garrieo began to testify he told jurors harrowing tales of gang members “going hunting” in the streets of San Francisco for rival gangs, usually Nortenos, to kill simply as a means of gaining respect among their own gang members or to defeat rivals.
He described finding a suspected rival and a girl in a car parked in a dark alley in Richmond in 2005 and approaching the car to shoot the unsuspecting pair. But when another gang member spotted a security camera the shooting was called it off and the men walked away.
Garrieo described an incident in the Oakland jail in 2008. Garrieo said he was asked by another defendant, Moris “Slow Pain” Flores, to get help from gang members for a plot against U.S. Marshals. Flores allegedly wanted to “get rid” of the marshals while he was being transported from jail to court using high-powered weapons.
Garrieo agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in 2009 in hopes of reducing his sentence for conspiracy to murder, racketeering, illegal weapons possession and use of a weapon.
At the end of the day, Garrieo described being in the U.S. Marshals holding cell on the top floor of the federal court when “Soldado” allegedly passed by outside the cell door. He told Garrieo in Spanish that Garrieo was a “snitch” and that his girlfriend “is going to pay for this, asshole.”
Case: CR08-730WHA (N. Dist. Court)