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L.A. gang leader's murder trial starts

Timothy McGhee wrote rap lyrics that will help prove the case against him, prosecutor says.

September 28, 2007|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

A northeast Los Angeles gang leader charged with murdering and assaulting gang rivals to keep control of a lucrative drug trade composed rap lyrics that will help prove his guilt, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.

During opening statements in the trial of Timothy McGhee, 33, whom police once described as a "monster" and a "thrill-killer" who led the Toonerville gang in Atwater Village, prosecutor Hoon Chun recited lyrics McGhee wrote for a girlfriend, and said they would help prove his case.

Here I come, last chance to run. Killer with a gun. Out to have some fun. In my dreams, I hear screams. Pleasure I feel is so obscene.

McGhee, clean-cut and dressed like his lawyers, seemed unaffected by the recitation of charges against him for crimes committed from 1997 to 2001. If convicted on all counts -- three of murder and six of attempted murder -- he faces execution.

His attorney, H. Clay Jacke II, told jurors Thursday that he would disprove the prosecution's theory. "It is unreliable because his messengers, his witnesses, are unreliable," Jacke said.

McGhee, once one of the nation's most wanted fugitives, led about 200 gang members who claim an area around Los Feliz Boulevard between San Fernando Road and the Los Angeles River, police said. He has spent one-third of his life behind bars. Each time he was released, police say, crime increased in the Atwater Village area. He eluded police for six months and was captured in February 2003 after a multistate manhunt.

Jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court were shown photos of McGhee with his torso and arms covered with tattoos, including "T.V.R." for Toonerville, Chun said.

McGhee smiled broadly and repeatedly at spectators, showing a glimpse of the bravado and swagger police said he exhibited upon his capture. Police at the time seized a T-shirt that read, "Fugitive. Can't see me." Another T-shirt bore a message suggesting how to elude police: "Throw a donut."

Chun called McGhee's crimes a "rampage" and warned jurors that many witnesses were reluctant to testify out of fear of, or loyalty to, the gangs involved in the crimes -- Toonerville, the Rascals and Frogtown.

As Chun began calling witnesses Thursday, the reluctance appeared to resurface.

Juan Cardiel was allegedly shot in the back by McGhee 10 years ago and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Cardiel, who has a long criminal record, told jurors that he is a member of the Rascals and doesn't want any part of the trial.

"I was actually forced here," Cardiel told Chun. "I'm in a wheelchair. I really don't care what happens." He said he didn't remember who shot him. But Chun told jurors that Cardiel had identified McGhee as the shooter after the crime.

Cardiel's friend Pedro Sanchez, who was shot in the back in the same incident but recovered, told jurors he too could not remember who shot him. McGhee allegedly chased him into a gas station, then shot at him repeatedly through a glass door as Sanchez tried to hold the handle. Sanchez said he thought -- mistakenly -- that the door was bulletproof.

McGhee is charged with murdering Margie Mendoza; Ronnie Martin, a gang member who was shot 28 times; and Ryan Gonzales, a Rascals member. Chun said former gang members will implicate McGhee in all three murders, plus the attempted murders.

One of the attempts, Chun said, was a 1997 ambush attack on LAPD patrol officers who were engaged in a car chase with Toonerville gang members. McGhee opened fire on the patrol car and two police officers who were in pursuit; the officers were not injured, Chun said.

Chun recited another set of McGhee's lyrics for jurors:

I am the hunter, you are the

hunted. When I let the bullets fly, you're

stunted. City of angels is where I trap my

quarry.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

john.spano@latimes.com

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