LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal prosecutor and a defense lawyer offered starkly different images of Paul "Doc" Wallace at the start of a racketeering trial that could put the purported leader of the East Coast Crips behind bars for the rest of his life if he's convicted.
"A knife in the jails and a gun on the streets," was Wallace's road to becoming the "boss of bosses" of the South LA gang, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Chemerinsky said Monday in his opening statement.
"His willingness to use violence made him the leader of the East Coast Crips," Chemerinsky told the jury in downtown Los Angeles.
Wallace, 56, is charged with racketeering conspiracy. As part of the wide-ranging indictment in support of the charge, he's accused of murdering a fellow gang member in 2003 for disrespecting him and of participating in the 2014 murder of a rival gang member, where he drove the shooter to the victim's home in his white Cadillac Escalade. If convicted of murder in support of a criminal enterprise, he faces a mandatory life sentence.
Much of the prosecution's evidence will come from other gang members, who are expected to testify how Wallace bragged to them about the murders he committed. Other evidence will include a video interview with Wallace in which he admits that he's got "murders under my belt," as well as recorded calls from jail in which the prosecutors claim he discusses extortion of a marijuana dispensary and the identify of a government informant.
Wallace's defense will try to focus on the unreliability of the government witnesses, some of whom have very lengthy rap sheets themselves. His lawyers will also try to get the jury to hear as much as the judge will allow about the benefits the government's cooperators are hoping to get from testifying against Wallace.
"The government has provided the cooperators with extraordinary benefits," Shaun Khojayan, one of Wallace's lawyers said in his opening statement. "All in an attempt to convict Mr. Wallace."
Wallace, according to Khojayan, was born in rural Louisiana, and ended up in South LA in the early 1970s with his family, just as the Bloods and Crips were being formed. He was groomed as a gang member from a very early age and at the age 16 he was shot in the spine by a youth who had been his best friend and who joined a rival gang. He was in a wheelchair and had to learn to walk with braces because of his injury. Not long after, when he was 18, he got shot again and sustained injuries in his arm and hand, according to the lawyer.
Even after his friend had shot him, Wallace unsuccessfully tried to reconcile with him, Khojayan said. Wallace has continued to be peacemaker as recently as a few years ago, before his arrest on the racketeering charges, when he helped end a gang war between the East Coast Crips and Florencia 13, a Hispanic street gang, thereby saving countless lives, his lawyer said.
The trial may hinge on how much Wallace's lawyer can undermine the credibility of the government's cooperating witness. U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte, earlier Monday outside the presence of the jury, set limits on how much of the sordid details of the cooperators can be brought up during cross-examination. In the case of one of them, the jury will hear that he's been convicted of human trafficking of a minor, but not that the victim was his own granddaughter.
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