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Jurors in Chicago’s Wicked Town racketeering trial are deliberating

The violence detailed in a Chicago federal courtroom over the past two months was unrelenting, with a shocking onslaught of blood-spattered cars, bodies on sidewalks, morgue photos and surveillance video showing victims being gunned down as the army tried to crawl to safety. place

But federal prosecutors told jurors this week that as gruesome as it may seem, the bloodshed was routine for the Wicked Town gang, a faction of the Traveling Vice Lords operating on the city’s West Side.

“This is what Wicked Town does,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Morrissey said in closing arguments Tuesday, summing up the more than two decades of shootings, robberies, beatings and drug dealing the gang is believed to have carried out. “That’s who they are.”

Now, after seven weeks of testimony from more than 100 witnesses and three days of closing arguments, a jury on Thursday began deliberating the fates of notorious Wicked Town ringleader Donald Lee and one of his alleged “shooters,” Torrance Benson.

Lee, 41, and Benson, 31, each of them is accused of racketeering and the illegal use of weapons by felons in an indictment that alleges they were part of a criminal enterprise that terrorized Chicago’s Austin neighborhood for more than 20 years.

Lee is also charged with two counts of racketeering murder, while Benson faces one count of aggravated assault in furtherance of the conspiracy. If convicted, they could each face up to life in prison.

A jury of six men and six women began deliberating the case at about 10:20 a.m. If there is no verdict Thursday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin told the panel they will return Monday to resume deliberations, as Friday is the weekend.

Concluding his rebuttal Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Mitchell said the evidence in the case was complex, but the message was simple: “Donald Lee started out as a gunman in the violent Wicked Town faction, and he worked his way up to become a member of this gang. the boss And Torrance Benson followed in his footsteps.”

Meanwhile, attorneys for Lee and Benson say the prosecution’s case is built largely on the testimony of other Wicked Town members who cooperated with authorities to get a break in their cases. Some of them are murderers and avowed liarswhile others were paid by the government in both money and promises of reduced sentences, according to the defense.

In his closing argument Wednesday, Matthew McQuaid, Benson’s attorney, called the flipper parade “Cooperation Mercenaries,” con artists who have no regard for truth or facts and are willing to do or say whatever the government wants them to do to save their own skins. .

“They are not trying to reset the karmic balance of the Earth, which they are compensating for with their behavior,” McQuaid said. “They redeem their lives. It’s purely selfish.”

Among them was Dante Dockett, a longtime Wicked Town associate who pleaded guilty to shooting six people and attempting to kill two others over a four-month period. Dockett testified last month that after learning in 2018 that members of his own gang had executed a longtime friend of his on suspicion of being an informant, he decided to do the unthinkable — hook up federal agents and help them solve the crime .

Lee’s attorney, Lisa Wood, said that when Dockett was confronted with inconsistencies in his witness statements, he simply began “making up lies on the spot.”

“Do we really believe Dante Dockett’s trial testimony?” asked Wood. “A serial killer who did it all for justice?”

The defense also urged jurors not to get carried away by all the gory images they saw and instead put their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt on prosecutors.

“You can’t be overcome by naturalistic violence, the result of violence and what it does to the human body,” McQuaid said. “Such things are always ugly. It is unbearable. It shocks the system. But when you’re sitting there and you have to take it all in, you have to remain impartial and fair.”

Dirksen’s U.S. Courthouse trial showed a crash course in the entrenched gang lifestyle that accounts for the city’s seemingly endless violence, from typical drug disputes to the recent phenomenon of social media slurs fueling a cycle of revenge and murder.

The Wicked Town thing is one of several racketeering charges brought in recent years under the leadership of US Attorney John Lausch. Four known members of the Goonies, a faction of the Gangster Disciples, are scheduled to go on trial in May. a series of murders and other executions in the Englewood neighborhood from 2014 to 2016.

The trial took place under heightened security measures, including metal detectors outside the courtroom and a ban on the use of electronics. Several witnesses who did not appear due to fear of reprisals had to be arrested and brought to court by order of the judge.

Although both Lee and Benson chose not to testify in their own defense, jurors still heard their voices.

Prosecutors played Facebook Live videos posted by Benson and other Wicked Town members standing on a block in their stronghold at Leamington Avenue and Ferdinand Street, brandishing weapons and taunting opponents.

“I’m tired of killing mother (expletive),” Benson joked in one of the videos shown to jurors last week. “I’m taking a break. … I am a Christian!”

Also central to the trial were hours of wiretaps and other taped conversations in which Lee allegedly discussed gang business, from feuds over drug sales to beating subordinates as punishment for violating the gang’s strict rules against selling weapons and cooperating with law enforcement.

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Among the latest evidence presented by prosecutors in their case-in-chief was a videotaped statement Lee gave shortly after his arrest on gun charges in 2020, before he learned of the scope of the federal investigation.

In this recording, Lee repeatedly defended Wicked Town and the street code he and his associates lived by, saying it was their only means of survival.

Dressed in a blue tank top, red and purple pajama pants and flip flops, Lee spoke casually as he tried to tell the agents that he and his associates were careful to only go after rivals and whistleblowers who play the same dangerous game and deserve what they get. .

“Like, that’s why I’m talking to you. I wanted to change your perception of Evil City,” said Lee, who was handcuffed to the cinder block wall of a windowless interrogation room. “Wicked Town, yes, it’s a street gang. But at the same time, we don’t go out to kill people to kill them. We offend the right people there. No children, no old woman. Do you see what I’m saying?’

Lee also praised the massive increase in firepower available on the streets, including high-capacity magazines and “switches” that turn ordinary pistols into machine guns capable of firing bursts of up to 40 rounds with a single pull of the trigger.

“I remember my first gun was a .38 with a nail,” Lee said at one point on the recording. “I had to drive a nail into the barrel to make it stand. Now these mothers (expletive) got 40 clips with switches and (expletive). They think it’s a video game, that we’re living in a (expletive) video game. It’s Grand Theft Auto.



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