San Francisco MS-13 gang members convicted in 2008 murders 

Six MS-13 gang members were convicted of murder and racketeering on Tuesday. (AP file photo) - SIX MS-13 GANG MEMBERS WERE CONVICTED OF MURDER AND RACKETEERING ON TUESDAY. (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • Six MS-13 gang members were convicted of murder and racketeering on Tuesday. (AP file photo)
  • Six MS-13 gang members were convicted of murder and racketeering on Tuesday. (AP file photo)

A federal jury convicted six MS-13 gang members Tuesday of murder and racketeering conspiracy after a five-month trial, part of a massive federal investigation that dealt a severe blow to the gang’s activities in San Francisco.

The jury found three men guilty of three fatal shootings in The City in 2008. All six were convicted of conspiring to commit murders and conspiring to racketeer. All face up to life in prison at their Nov. 30 sentencing.

Prosecutors said the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, took up in San Francisco’s Mission district in the 1990s. Gang members conspired to kill their main rivals, the Norteños, as well as members of other gangs and people suspected of cooperating with police. But unintended victims were caught in the crossfire. Federal authorities arrested dozens of suspected members, mostly in 2008.

Erick “Spooky” Lopez was convicted of the March 29, 2008, slayings of Ernad Joldic, 21, and Philip Ng, 24, who prosecutors said were mistaken for Norteños.

Jonathan “Soldado” Cruz-Ramirez and Guillermo “Shorty” Herrera were found guilty of the July 11, 2008, killing of Armando Estrada, 31, a street-corner fake-document dealer who prosecutors said refused to pay a “tax” to MS-13.

Cruz-Ramirez was acquitted of the May 31, 2008, murder of Juan “Patas” Rodriguez, an alleged leader of the document-selling crew, according to Cruz-Ramirez’s attorney John Philipsborn.

Defense attorneys were forbidden by the trial judge from arguing to the jury that their clients were entrapped into committing crimes by other gang members who became informants in the case.

“Clearly, a major line of defense could not be presented,” Philipsborn said.

But the defense did attack the credibility of the so-called snitches, who agreed to plead guilty to other crimes in exchange for their testimony.

“Each of them was essentially trying to buy their way out of a life sentence,” Herrera’s attorney, Martin Sabelli, argued.

A seventh man, 21-year-old Walter “Sombra” Cruz-Zavala, who was charged with conspiracy but not murder, was acquitted by the jury. The government had accused him of maintaining the gang’s “gun library,” according to his attorney Randy Sue Pollock.

“There just wasn’t much on him,” Pollock said. “He was like a wannabe hanging out with these guys.” He now faces deportation to El Salvador, she said.

After the verdict, jurors said they found the physical evidence more compelling than the informant testimony, Pollock said.

Seven other alleged MS-13 members are still awaiting trial in federal court, including three men accused of the June 2010 murder of a man at a Daly City bus stop.

Another alleged gang member, Edwin Ramos, 24, is facing trial in Superior Court for the June 2008 shooting murders of a father and two of his sons. Police have said those murders also were a case of mistaken identity.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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