A former San Francisco gang member who once faced a possible death penalty was sentenced in federal court today to three consecutive life terms without possibility of release for three gang-related murders.

Dennis Cyrus, 26, a former member of a Western Addition neighborhood gang known as the Page Street Mob, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney in San Francisco.

He was convicted by a jury in Chesney’s court last year of 16 crimes, including three 2002 murders, an attempted murder, kidnapping, racketeering conspiracy, cocaine conspiracy, and drug and gun offenses.

Prosecutors sought a rare federal death penalty for the murders, but the jury opted instead for life in prison without release.

Defense attorney John Philipsborn asked Chesney to consider a life sentence with possibility of release.

“Given that the fact that he was 18 years old at the time of the crimes, it would be cruel and unusual punishment to cut off all hope,” Philipsborn argued.

But Chesney said the life sentence without release was her only choice under the law used to convict Cyrus.

There is no parole in the federal criminal system, but release from a sentence is allowed in some circumstance.

When asked if he wanted to say anything before being sentenced, Cyrus declined.

Chesney also imposed four consecutive life sentences and four concurrent life sentences, all with possibility of release, plus a concurrent 40 years in prison for the other crimes.

Cyrus was one of seven Page Street Mob members indicted in 2005. The others pleaded guilty to various charges and received prison sentences ranging from seven to 22 years.

Prosecutors said the gang used violence, including murder, to protect its turf for selling crack cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy in the Western Addition.

Cyrus murdered the three victims with gunshots at close range in August and September 2002. Prosecutor William Frentzen told jurors last year that Cyrus killed the men because he wanted gang status as a “head buster.”

The victims were Joseph Hearns, 27, the boyfriend of a woman whose previous boyfriend was an imprisoned gang member; Randy Mitchell, 29, a member of a rival gang; and Ray Jimmerson, 25, a member of the Big Block gang in Hunters Point who had become a government informant.

Cyrus was convicted of Jimmerson’s murder both as a racketeering-related murder and as a separate crime of killing a federal witness.

At the start of the hearing, Chesney turned down a defense bid for a new trial on the drug-related counts on grounds of recently disclosed problems in the San Francisco Police Department’s drug laboratory, which had evaluated drug evidence in the case.

“Given what the court believes was overwhelming evidence of a narcotics conspiracy and a great deal of undisputed evidence in that regard,” the alleged drug lab problems wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome of Cyrus’ case, Chesney said.

Philipsborn and co-defense attorney James Thomson filed a notice of appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals immediately after the sentencing, but they said the appeal will be handled by a different lawyer.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch issued a statement saying, “Hopefully, the families and victims of these horrific crimes will receive a measure of closure by knowing Mr. Cyrus will never be released to the streets again.”

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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