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First Defense Witness in Mexican Mafia Trial Testifies

April 10, 1997|GEORGE RAMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Defense attorneys in the Mexican Mafia trial in Los Angeles federal court began their case Wednesday by continuing to attack the prosecution's key witness, a former Mexican Mafia prison gang member who turned against the group.

The defense's first witness was Los Angeles sheriff's Det. Roy Nunez, who was a chief handler of Ernest "Chuco" Castro, who testified for nearly two months against the 13 defendants. The suspected members or associates of the prison gang are accused of racketeering, extortion and drug trafficking.

Nunez testified that he and FBI Special Agent James Myers were Castro's main contacts during the first part of the federal probe into the Mexican Mafia and that Castro had provided them with names and telephone numbers for suspected members of the Eme, as the prison gang is commonly called.

During his time on the witness stand, Castro often could not remember details of what he told investigators.

Nunez, who left the task force investigating the Eme in 1994, said he emphasized to Castro the importance of telling the truth--something Castro admitted under cross-examination that he didn't always do.

"I told him it was very important to be honest and open," Nunez testified.

U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew became irritated over the sometimes tedious nature of the defense's questioning of Nunez. Defense attorney Sonia Chahin wanted to ask Nunez about more than 170 contacts the deputy had with Castro to determine if her client, Ruben "Tupi" Hernandez, had indeed plotted to kill an Eme member as the federal indictment charges.

Recording each of Nunez's answers on paper mounted on an easel, Lew told Chahin that she was wasting time if she planned to write down answers about each contact.

After briefly protesting, she asked Nunez about each contact, eliciting what she wanted the jury to know: that Hernandez was not mentioned by Castro as being part of any plot to kill Michael "Flaco" Perry.

While it took federal prosecutions 4 1/2 months to present their case, defense lawyers said it may take only two weeks to present theirs. But none would say if any of the 13 defendants will testify.

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