More than 30 of 48 defendants indicted last month in a massive gang case appeared today in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose in what a defense attorney claimed was an unfair proceeding by prosecutors. Thirty-one alleged members or associates of the Nuestra Familia gang sat in chains and handcuffs at the Hall of Justice in a courtroom crowded with their friends, relatives and attorneys for both sides. Some of the defendants — 24 men and seven women, on opposite sides of the room — tried to spot acquaintances in the audience while others smiled or fidgeted in their red or orange prison clothes.
A Santa Clara County criminal grand jury indicted them and 17 other defendants on May 30 on 77 felony counts including murder, robbery, drug sales, witness intimidation, weapons and gang activity violations. All of the 49 defendants, including nine who are not in custody, have been charged with at least one felony count of active participation in a criminal street gang, according to the district attorney’s office. Most of the defendants were indicted on charges of selling controlled substances, including methamphetamine and cocaine, according to the district attorney’s office. Six are accused of five robberies of banks and credit unions in San Jose that netted $60,000 from late 2011 to early 2012.
One by one, each defendant stood after Judge Rise Pichon called their names, some entering not guilty pleas while others were assigned lawyers from the county’s Independent Defense Counsel Office. Many of the accused watched as prosecutors agreed to drop other criminal charges pending against the defendants to consolidate them with the charges in the indictment. Pichon ordered the defendants to return to court on June 20 for a hearing to set trials on the charges they face. “I’m going to give the same date to everybody,” Pichon said.
Daniel Jensen, a defense attorney for one of the defendants, whom he declined to name, claimed that his client and many others were indicted on only one count of selling methamphetamine. The count against his client is based on a single witness who is jail for attempted murder, Jensen said. The drug sales charge against his client was at preliminary hearing stage but was dismissed because prosecutors opted to include it in the indictment, meaning a longer wait to go to trial, Jensen said.
Jensen said that case came down as the district attorney’s office had been embroiled in recent controversies about employee hiring and other administrative practices under District Attorney Jeff Rosen. “This is timing,” Jensen said. “Indictments are easy to get.” Prosecutors consider Larry “Conejo” Lucero the leader of Nuestra Familia’s countywide group of gang members and associates from San Jose and Gilroy and others in federal prison in California. The indictments were the result of a three-year investigation into the gang’s activities in the county by more than a dozen federal, state and local law enforcement agencies
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