Courts blog is back with guilty verdicts

After a short hiatus, The Sun’s blog about every day action in our local courts is back online. As the courts reporter for The Sun, I will be bringing news, drama and excitement from the courtroom to the Web.

Recently, I’ve been covering Keith Slaughter Jr.’s criminal trial, where a jury returned guilty verdicts on 18 of the 20 counts charged to Slaughter on Monday in San Bernardino Superior Court. Once dubbed a menace to the city’s Westside by police, Slaughter was found guilty of murder in the deadly shooting of 14-year-old Jarred Mitchell on West Home Avenue in May 2006.

Slaughter was also found guilty in a drive-by shooting on West Alturas Street that seriously wounded a man who was running for his life in January 2007.

Witnesses struggled against intimidation and fear to come forward and testify against Slaughter, whose father is the president of a local street gang, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Rogan told jurors in her opening arguments. At least one member of the gang, who was a family member of Slaughter, sat in the courtroom gallery to watch the testimony.

Officer Travis Walker even told the court that someone had flashed gang signs through a window in the courtroom door as he testified on the witness stand.

Prosecutors are highlighting the case in the hopes of bringing more reform to witness protection in gang cases. By no fault of their own, witnesses just happen to be in a location when a crime happens, prosecutors explained. Many times, those witnesses are children such as with the Slaughter case.

“They didn’t choose to be there,” Rogan said. She believes more can be done, such as pursuing legislation, to ensure the safety of witnesses of gang violence and bring more successful prosecutions, she said.

Defense lawyer James Gass, who represented Slaughter, said little after hearing the jury’s decision. “Mr. Slaughter’s family is very upset with the verdicts,” he said. He wouldn’t elaborate.

Now, Slaughter faces an estimated 200 years to life in state prison when he is sentenced May 12, lawyers said. The Sun will stay on the case as Slaughter’s parents, who are both in jail, still await trial on suspicion of witness intimidation in their son’s case and drug charges.