General Crime

*U.S. Judge Mulling Plea Agreement That Would End Death Penalty Trial

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A U.S. judge in San Francisco is expected to announce Tuesday whether he will approve a plea agreement that would end a rare federal death penalty trial in which an alleged drug gang member is accused of three murders.Under the agreement, Emile Fort, 27, in San Francisco, would plead guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and would be sentenced to 41 years and four months in prison.Fort was allegedly a member of the Down Below gang in the Visitacion Valley district of San Francisco.He is on trial in U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s court on multiple charges, including racketeering, drug conspiracy, using guns in violent crimes and murdering a 7-week-old baby and two teenagers in 2003 and 2004.If convicted of the murders, he could face a possible death penalty.The jury trial, expected to last up to five months, began last week. But on Friday, Alsup recessed the trial after being informed by prosecutors of the proposed plea deal.Alsup set a hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday to announce whether he will
accept the agreement. Local prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco had proposed a similar plea deal with a 40-year sentence last fall, but the Bush administration Justice Department under then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused to approve it. The case then proceeded to trial.The new proposed agreement was approved by Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder. Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Holder approved local prosecutors’ recommendation of a plea agreement “based on his individual assessment of the facts and the law” of the case. At a hearing today, the judge expressed concern about whether he will agree with the proposed sentence but said he would review the case overnight. The slain baby’s mother, Sharonda Bishop, told the Alsup during the hearing that she thinks Fort should be given a life sentence.Bishop said tearfully, “That was my first baby. I feel he should get life because nobody’s going to bring my baby back.”It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts,” she said.The maximum sentence for the racketeering conspiracy charge is life in prison, but under the terms of the agreement, Alsup must either accept or reject the sentence and does not have the power to impose a longer prison term.Fort is one of 12 members of the Down Below Gang indicted in an 86-count indictment in 2005. The others have pleaded guilty to various charges.Another defendant, Edgar Diaz, 23, pleaded guilty in November to committing three murders in the course of racketeering and was sentenced by Alsup in January to 40 years in prison under a plea agreement approved by Mukasey last year.Alsup, apparently referring to the killing of the baby, said today there was a “rational difference” between the two cases.Prosecutors have said the Down Below gang operated in the area of the Sunnydale housing project, where it sold crack cocaine and other drugs and protected its turf with violence and murder.The Fort case is one of two death penalty trials that began in federal court in San Francisco last week. In the other trial, in the court of U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney, Dennis Cyrus, 24, an alleged member of the Page Street gang in the city’s Western Addition district, is accused of killing three men in 2002.

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