Attorneys for members of what police say has been one of the most violent gangs in the Salt Lake area spent Monday in court reviewing the prosecution's evidence.
During a daylong evidentiary hearing, attorneys for 14 men reviewed evidence linking them to the Tiny Oriental Posse and accusing them of conspiring to run a criminal organization.
All 14 men, who are in custody, sat in the courtroom's jury box in jumpsuits and chains as their attorneys made legal arguments.
At issue is whether two gang experts should be considered qualified and relevant to testify at trial and whether the government has sufficient evidence to prove its case.
The 14 men were indicted by a federal grand jury in July 2006 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or RICO. Prosecutors say the gang, which also goes by TOP, has a decade-long history of murders, shootings, drug dealing and other violence, including the Nov. 7, 1998, fatal shooting of Bethany Hyde, in which TOP members mistook the car she was in for that of a rival gang member.
Former West Valley police detective Bruce Champagne testified he is a specialist in Southeast Asian gangs and has worked on several criminal cases involving TOP members.
Champagne said many Asian gang members are difficult to identify because many of them live "double lives" in which they work full time or go to school. Many such gangs also lack a solid hierarchy and unlike Aryan gangs, include members from different nationalities.
Specifically to TOP, Champagne said by 2002, West Valley police determined that something needed to be done to curb the gang's violence. It was at that time that police and prosecutors began building a RICO case. Some 16 to 18 individuals are considered "core" TOP members with about 30 to 35 active members and hundreds of "associates" who are either sympathetic family members or probationary members.
The gang is also known to have at least two female members or "little sisters," but the majority of members are male.
Defense attorneys have questioned if the prosecution has adequate evidence to show the 14 men are indeed TOP members.
In court Monday, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell asked several men to stand and show their tattoos, many of them which indicate they are TOP gang members. Federal prosecutors also discovered MySpace.com sites of several men that indicate membership in the gang, one of which included a roster of TOP members. Prosecutors also said if the case goes to trial, they plan to call numerous victims of violent crimes to the witness stand to confirm the identities of various men as TOP gang members.
E-mail: [email protected]