GANG LEADER CONVICTED OF MURDERS TIMOTHY MCGHEE MAY FACE DEATH IN KILLING OF RIVALS.
One of Los Angeles' most feared gang leaders with a penchant for writing rap lyrics about his killings was convicted Thursday of murdering rival gang members for control of a lucrative drug trade -- and now could face the death penalty.
Timothy Joseph McGhee, 34, leader of the Toonerville gang in Atwater Village, was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and four of attempted murder. His autobiographical notebook of gang lyrics in which he boasted about his crimes proved vital in the conviction.
McGhee showed no emotion in Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry's courtroom when the verdicts were read. His mother appeared distraught when she learned the outcome and declined comment.
Perry immediately set penalty-phase arguments and testimony to begin this morning.
"He was convicted of three murders and four attempts, and he was convicted of shooting personally in four different shootings over a four-year period," Deputy District Attorney Hoon Chun said. "We will definitely be asking for the death sentence."
Meanwhile, the verdicts came as welcome and surprising news in Atwater Village, where residents said they feared McGhee would get off after an almost six-year wait for the cases to come to trial -- and nearly two weeks of deliberations.
"Everyone here was saying to each other, 'He's getting out! He's getting out!" said Lenore Solis, treasurer of the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council and a longtime resident.
Since McGhee's capture in 2003 in Arizona, crime has declined in the area, residents and police say. The arrest came only after City Councilman Eric Garcetti posted a $50,000 reward and a U.S. Marshal's Service nationwide hunt.
"Let's face it, he was responsible for a lot of the killings and the violence," Solis said. "His mother was going around passing out leaflets asking for people to pray for her son and to get support for him. I feel for her, but I also feel for all the mothers of his victims. This is all a sad commentary on our society."
The lengthy deliberations -- Thursday marked the ninth day -- were due in part to issues with a lone juror Perry removed from the panel a week ago and replaced with an alternate. Jurors were also having to weigh the testimony of prosecution witnesses -- some of them gang members with pending cases of their own -- that defense attorney H. Clay Jacke Jr. said were motivated by plea deals from prosecutors.
The murder convictions were for the Oct. 14, 1997, killing of Ronald Martin; the June 3, 2000, slaying of 16-year-old Ryan Gonzalez; and the Nov. 9, 2001, slaying of Margie Mendoza, the girlfriend of a rival gang member and a 26-year-old mother of three.
McGhee is believed to have killed another person in 2000, simply because he thought Atwater Village wasn't big enough for two people with the same nickname, "Guero" -- "light-skinned" in Spanish.
In addition to his conviction of attempting to murder LAPD Officers Thomas Baker and Carlos Langarica, McGhee was found guilty of trying to kill Duane Natividad and Erica Rhee. He was acquitted of attempting to kill Pedro Sanchez and Juan Cardiel.
Three of McGhee's fellow Toonerville gang members -- Mario "Little Boy" Aleman, Ramon "Chubbs" Maldonado and Joseph "Little Respect" Aghazadeh -- were previously convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life terms in the July 4, 2000, attempted murders of Baker and Langarica during a chase.
The prosecution did run into challenges in trying to get certain witnesses to testify accurately, including Cardiel and Sanchez, who said they couldn't remember who shot them. Chun said it was indicative of the wave of fear and intimidation exerted by McGhee even after his capture.
"Witness protection won't work/ Realize your ratt ain't going to make it to the stand/ To identifie(sic) the man shootin up the ham/ Can't promise protection when you can't protect yourself," he wrote in one set of lyrics introduced in his trial.
Details in McGhee's rap lyrics, according to authorities, corresponded to details in no fewer than three of the killings to which McGhee has been connected.
His defense team had argued the notebook should not be admitted into evidence because it contained the notation in big letters that "everything in this book is a work of fiction."
But Chun successfully countered that McGhee's "autobiographical gang writings in the notebook are self-authenticating because they consistently identify the author as having characteristics unique to defendant McGee" -- the tattoos, the nicknames, his gang affiliations, his Atwater roots, his physical description and being a fugitive.
"They are his words," Chun said. "They are his deeds."