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Reluctant witnesses underpin US case against South LA gang leader

One of the government's witnesses was incredulous about having to testify about a shooting he hadn't heard about for 18 years.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — As federal prosecutors are trying to build their case that a long-time South LA gang leader is the "boss of bosses," some of their witnesses made it abundantly clear that they were testifying against their will and were reluctant to provide more than just barest evidence against Paul "Doc" Wallace.

Wallace, 56, is on trial for racketeering conspiracy, a sweeping charge that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. The racketeering charge includes a long list of underlying allegations, including two murders and the extortion of a marijuana dispensary in support of a criminal enterprise, the East Coast Crips.

One of the murders Wallace is accused of is the 2003 killing of Raymond Pickett, who the government alleges Wallace shot because he disrespected him. The eyewitness to this shooting testified Thursday in downtown LA, but was unwilling to go as far as to tell the jurors that he actually saw Wallace shoot Pickett.

"I did not see him shoot this man," Tommy Ristick said. "I assumed he was the shooter because he was there. I can't say if he's guilty or not."

Ristick is one of several government witnesses who, according to Wallace's lawyers, may be seeking a break in their own, unrelated criminal cases by testifying against Wallace. Ristick was arrested on suspicion of rape last year based on a DNA match but so far hasn't been charged. When he was questioned by the LAPD in connection with the rape case and facing arraignment, he told the police detectives that he was a witness to a murder and gave them the contact information of the investigators on the Wallace case.

Ristick testified that in February 2003 he drove to South LA with his wife and children in the car to buy illegal prescription drugs right after he was let out of county jail where he had spent a few days because he was "dope sick" and "needed a few pills" in his body. When he had parked his car to go to his dealer, he passed two men arguing in front of a building, one of which he later identified as Wallace.

"There were two guys having words and in a matter of 10 seconds, it was pop, pop, pop," Ristick told the jurors. "This guy just opened up on him."

Ristick was tracked down by LAPD after he called 911 to find out what happened, giving a bogus story that he had seen a Hispanic male shoot Pickett from a car. He identified Wallace from a six-pack of mugshots in March of 2003, but never heard anything again about the shooting and thought the case was over.

"I don't want to be here," Ristick said. "If he was guilty then, he should have been in prison."

Another unwilling witness was Wallace's girlfriend at the time of the Pickett shooting, who told the jury the only reason she was there was that she was threatened with jail time if she didn't show up in court. She testified that a group of people from the neighborhood including Wallace had been hanging out in front of her grandmother's house, smoking weed and listening to music, and that she had gotten in a fight with Pickett who she had dated before. She wasn't there when Pickett got killed later that day.

A more willing witness Thursday was Derek Banks, an East Coast Crips member who goes by the name Too Cool.

Banks told the jury that Wallace is the "boss of bosses" and the shot caller of all the East Coast Crips sets.

"He told me he shot Ray Dog," Banks said, referring to Pickett. "He was bragging about it to me."

Banks also supported the government's allegations that Wallace had been extorting a marijuana dispensary in the neighborhood by sending in some young "homies" to act rowdy, after which Wallace offered the owner to provide security for the business. In exchange Wallace received bags of marijuana, according to Banks.

The owner of the dispensary testified Wednesday and was a lot more reluctant to mark Wallace as an extorter. In recorded calls from prison, Wallace and the owner jovially exchanged greetings and expressed their respective love for another. The owner also testified that he had to shut down the dispensary after it got raided by the police and all his merchandise and cash got confiscated.

"I'm just friendly with him, that's all," he told the jury. "I was a little bit afraid of Mr. Wallace and his friends."

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