Biggest street-gang trial in recent Chicago history begins

2016-09-14 22:40
Paris Poe (AP).

Paris Poe (AP).

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Chicago — Six purported leaders of the Hobos street gang went on trial on Wednesday in a case that is expected to provide a rare look inside the criminal activity fuelling gun violence in the nation's third-largest city.

Prosecutors say the defendants murdered, maimed and tortured their way into controlling the most lucrative drug markets on Chicago's South Side. Their trial is the biggest proceeding of its kind in recent city history, and testimony is expected to last for months.

Federal prosecutor Patrick Otlewski told jurors that the six men charged with racketeering are "an all-star team of the worst of the worst" who "terrorised the city."

"You will look into the eyes of murderers every day," he said in opening statements.

Among the defendants is alleged Hobos hit man Paris Poe, who prosecutors say killed a government witness in 2013, shooting the man 25 times at close range while his horrified stepchildren, ages four and six at the time, screamed in the back seat of a car. The four-year-old later told investigators the "Boogie Man" had attacked them, according to court filings.

As the prosecutor told the story of the witness' death to jurors, he walked toward Poe sitting behind a defence table, raising his voice.

"Who would do such a thing?" he asked about the killing and then pointing at Poe. "That man is in this courtroom in that blue shirt — a cold-blooded murderer."

At one point, Otllewski held up two sleek, black rifles in each hand a few feet from the jury box, saying they belonged to the defendants. He also held up what he called a high-powered pistol with "special bullets" that "ripped through cars and ripped through human flesh".

"In the hands of Hobos, these were killing machines," he said.

Sleep and rob

Prosecutors will seek to prove that the defendants' criminal conspiracy involved at least nine murders, including the killing of semi-pro basketball player, Eddie Moss Junior, in a case of mistaken identity and the fatal drive-by shooting of two rival gang members outside a funeral home.

Security was heavy at federal court in downtown Chicago. The judge ordered jurors' names be kept secret to ensure they are not subject to intimidation. US marshals have already said they are investigating reported threats against several likely witnesses.

The 36-year-old Poe, alleged Hobos boss Gregory "Bowlegs" Chester and four other co-defendants have all pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they each face up to life in prison.

Prosecutors say the Hobos formed from several fractured gangs with home bases in Chicago public housing complexes that have since been demolished.

Government filings cite one co-defendant, William Ford, as explaining in a secretly recorded conversation how the gang got its name from an early emphasis by its founders in 2003 on jewellery and other heists.

"After they kept robbin' they like, 'Man, we Hobo,'" Ford said, according to court filings. "And Hobos, all they do is sleep and rob."

But the Hobos' apparent willingness to resort to violence meant those goals changed over a decade to the point where they became one of the city's dominant gangs. Another Hobos motto, which Poe has tattooed to his back, reflected that ambition — "The Earth Is Our Turf."

While narcotics promised huge profits, robbery remained an aspect of their criminal enterprise, prosecutors say. They allegedly held up then-NBA basketball player Bobby Simmons at gunpoint outside a nightclub in 2006, getting away with the athlete's $200 000 white gold necklace. Prosecutors say they also robbed other drug traffickers.

Court filings describe a gun battle between Hobos and rival Black Disciples during a summer picnic in 2007, when Chester was shot 18 times. The Hobos spent weeks retaliating, shooting one Black Disciple in face during a drive-by shooting and hitting another as he walked into a daycare centre.

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