gavel.jpgAfter nearly three months of testimony, prosecutors rested their case and defense attorneys began theirs at the federal racketeering and murder conspiracy trial of seven MS-13 gang members in San Francisco today.

“We’ve reached a milestone,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup told jurors in his Federal Building courtroom.

“We still have some time to go in the case,” he added. “We will hear from the defense.”

Alsup estimated the case could go to the jury in mid-August following three or four weeks of defense testimony, prosecution rebuttal and closing arguments.

The seven men on trial were members of a branch of the violent MS-13 gang known as the 20th Street Clique, based in the vicinity of 20th and Mission streets in San Francisco.

All seven are accused of racketeering, or running a continuing criminal enterprise, and conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering.

Three are also specifically charged with murder in aid of racketeering in the gunshot slayings of four men on San Francisco streets between March and July 2008. Other charges include assault and use of guns.

The MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, gang originated in Central American and Southern California. Its name is believed to be a combination of the words for gang, Salvadoran and “fear us.”

The seven defendants are among about three dozen MS-13 Bay Area gang members and associates who were charged in four successive versions of an indictment in 2008 and 2009.

About 18 others have pleaded guilty to various charges, and some became prosecution witnesses in the trial, which began April 4.

In addition to murder and assault, the 20th Street Clique is alleged to have engaged in drug dealing, robbery, extortion and car theft.

The racketeering charge carries a possible maximum sentence of life in prison if the defendants are convicted, and the charges of murder in aid of racketeering carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison upon conviction.

Defense attorneys, who challenged the credibility of government informants during their opening statements, began their case today by questioning FBI Agent Cassandra Flores about Justice Department rules for handling informants.

The trial will resume on Tuesday after a four-day break.

Outside the presence of the jury, Alsup gave defense attorneys a July 8 deadline for filing motions for acquittal on grounds on insufficient evidence. Such motions following the completion of a prosecution case are routine, but are rarely granted.

He told the lawyers, “I will tell you as a general rule that I have been following the evidence and I think there is sufficient evidence on every single count.”

“(But) I could be proven wrong. I urge you to be specific (in your motions),” the judge said.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!