The San Francisco chapter of the international Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 gang, “waged war against rival gang members” and “they ended up spilling a lot of innocent blood on the streets of San Francisco,” a federal prosecutor told jurors. The government’s closing argument got underway today in a high security courtroom built just to handle large gang trials.
The trial of the first seven of the original 29 alleged gang members indicted in 2008 covers 22 courts of racketeering, conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, extortion and robbery in support of the alleged gang activity.
With U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in the courtroom to lend moral support to the prosecution team, along with nearly a dozen other prosecutors, Wilson Leung began what is expected to be a day of closing argument in the long-running trial.
Leung opened by naming and pointing to each defendant as they sat in three tiers beside their lawyers and facing jurors across the room. “The evidence as seen in the trial establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that” – pointing and naming each in turn – “is guilty of conspiracy in aid of racketeering, murder conspiracy, attempted murder in aid of racketeering and sale of drugs.”
Jurors, who variously took notes or yawned, sat up and took notice when Leung asked an assistant to pull out from beneath the prosecution table the 11 weapons seized by government agents in the course of the investigation.
First a large shotgun, then an arsenal of handguns were held aloft for jurors and placed on a table. Then followed a box the size of five pounds of candy holding seized ammunition. Among the ammunition, agents seized 200 shotgun shells.
“Let’s be clear, MS-13 has always been violent,” said Leung. “Use your common sense, it’s a gang,” he said.
The government estimates there are 8,000 to 10,000 members of MS-13 in 30 states around the U.S. and others in Central America. The gang began in El Salvador and Honduras.
Leung explained that not only has the gang engaged in attacks on rivals but allegedly collected “taxes” through extortion and used robbery and drug sales to raise money to send to Central America to support the gang and pay bail money for those in jail.
He pointed to allegations of attempted obstruction of justice through alleged jailhouse threats made to informants who planned to testify against them.
The trial began in May and closing arguments are expected to last through the week, with each defense lawyer having an opportunity to respond to the government’s case over the coming days.
Case: U.S. v. Cerna, CR08-730WHA