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DEFENSE DENIES EXISTENCE OF JAIL GANG, ASSAILS WITNESS.

Byline: Janet Gilmore Daily News Staff Writer

Not only doesn't the Mexican Mafia exist, an informant who testified that 13 men are members is a drug-using manipulator, the defendant's attorneys told jurors Wednesday.

Prosecutors have contended that the Mexican Mafia began in the 1960s, first wielding influence in the state's prisons and then extending its reach to street gangs.

But defense attorney Ellen Barry told jurors during closing arguments Wednesday that the Mexican Mafia exists only in the minds of people who, like the prosecution's key witness, want to intimidate young street toughs.

``He's the heart of their case and without him it falls apart. Isn't that why they (prosecutors) tried to back away from him?'' she asked.

That witness, Ernie ``Chuco'' Castro, fooled street gangs into thinking he was backed by the all-powerful Mexican Mafia, Barry said. He also fooled law enforcement officials; and now, to save himself from prosecution, he is trying to fool jurors, she said.

Castro helped federal authorities build their case against the 13 men on trial in the first racketeering case brought against a gang in Los Angeles. The men are accused of leading the Mexican Mafia in a spree of murders.

In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors replayed for jurors audio tapes and videotapes that they say show the accused men plotting deaths.

But Barry, who is representing defendant Alex Aguirre, said the recordings are not useful because no one knows how Castro pitted people against each other in conversations not captured on tape.

``Is he somebody you can trust? Is he somebody you can rely on beyond a reasonable doubt?'' Barry said.

Barry contended that Castro, who was granted immunity from prosecution in this case, secretly manipulated people and conversations for prosecutors.

Barry also said the accused men were bragging and gossiping when they are heard on tapes issuing what sound like orders to kill people.

``If this is an organization,'' she said, ``then any day care class is an organization. What happened? A whole lot of nothing.''

Defense attorney Joseph Walsh argued that in some instances Castro may have blamed defendants for murders that Castro actually committed or participated in himself.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 8, 1997
Words:359
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