Gang member pleads guilty in 11-year-old case

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A leader of a Los Angeles-based street gang that used intimidation, torture and murder to protect a vast multi-state drug enterprise has pleaded guilty in Nashville to murder, drug trafficking and other offenses.

The plea Monday by Donnell Young brings to a close the second oldest federal death penalty prosecution in the country.

In exchange for the guilty plea, federal prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty. Instead, Young faces life in prison after pleading guilty to drug trafficking, firearms offenses, murder and obstruction of justice.

The case has lingered since his indictment in 1998 because of continuances and appeals.

Young, 34, is one of three reputed gang leaders of the Rollin’ 90s Crips accused of killing seven people and wounding a 3-year-old girl.

At least 40 people associated with the gang have been indicted for drug trafficking, firearms offenses and money laundering in Los Angeles, Oklahoma, Memphis and Nashville.

Prosecutors in Nashville sought death for three men, citing the trio as an example of how badly gang members treat one another.

Young, who has been in a segregated unit in the Metro Nashville jail awaiting trial, sat motionless during the hearing. U.S. District Judge John Nixon agreed to a request from his attorneys to sentence him before August. A sentencing date will be set later.

Young admitted to the 1997 Oklahoma City murder of fellow gang member Woody Pilcher. According to court documents, gang members wanted him dead because they feared he would talk to authorities.

Young was known as an “enforcer” in the gang—somebody who imposed discipline among other gang members. He lived in Los Angeles but would often travel to Oklahoma City to keep gang members in line. In court Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sunny A.M. Koshy outlined how Young, known on the street as “Lil Peso,” enforced his own brand of discipline.

The prosecutor said Young tortured a 15-year-old boy in a drug house in Oklahoma City because he thought the teen had talked to the police about the gang. The teen told authorities that Young beat him, broke two of his fingers and placed two guns in his mouth during an ordeal that lasted up to seven hours.

Prosecutors also said Young and a group of other gang members sodomized another teen with a broomstick in Oklahoma City because he was with someone who owed a drug debt.

Young also burned members with butter knives heated from the flame of a lighter or tied them up and held them under water, the prosecutor said. Young shaved the head and eyebrows off one victim, telling him he was preparing him “for the undertaker and saving the mortician some work,” Koshy told the court.

Jamal Shakir, the drug kingpin, was sentenced to life in prison following an eight-month trial in Nashville last year. The jury could not agree on whether to impose the death penalty. The third defendant, Eben Payne, is still awaiting trial.

Young’s lawyers declined to comment, citing a gag order in the case.

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