Jury convicts L.A. gang leader of three murders

Once described by police as a ‘monster,’ Timothy Joseph McGhee could face execution for the crimes during a four-year rampage.
By Greg Krikorian
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

October 26, 2007

A swaggering street gang leader from Los Angeles who once was one of the nation’s most notorious fugitives, was convicted Thursday of three murders and four attempted murders, including a 2000 shooting ambush of police.

Timothy Joseph McGhee, the 34-year-old leader of the long-entrenched Toonerville gang, faces possible execution for the crimes that authorities say occurred during a four-year rampage that ended in 2001.

After a week of deliberations, a jury of eight men and four women found McGhee guilty of murdering Ronnie Martin, 25, a rival gang member who was shot 27 times in October 1997; Ryan Gonzales, a 17-year-old member of the rival Rascals gang who was killed in June 2000; and Marjorie Mendoza, 25, who was fatally shot in November 2001 when she and her boyfriend drove through an area where McGhee and his associates were gunning for gang rivals.

According to testimony at trial, Mendoza’s boyfriend, who was wounded in that attack, was a member of a rival gang.

In addition to those murders, McGhee was found guilty of attempted murder of Mendoza’s boyfriend and her girlfriend in the November 2001 incident.

The jury also convicted McGhee of attempted murder in the July 4, 2000, ambush of two LAPD officers who were chasing Toonerville gang members.

In that incident, McGhee was found guilty of firing on the officers, who were not injured. Three Toonerville members were found guilty of attempted murder in that car chase, where members of McGhee’s gang shot at pursuing officers and tossed washing machines, bicycles and other debris at their patrol car to escape.

Once described by police as a “monster” and a “thrill killer,” McGhee led about 200 members of the Toonerville gang, which was formed in the 1950s and claims a largely middle-class area north of Los Feliz Boulevard between San Fernando Road and the Los Angeles River.

According to police, McGhee directed his gang like a military drill instructor, leading them in calisthenics, target practice and methods for evading police or killing gang rivals.

McGhee, who has spent about one-third of his life behind bars, was convicted in 1994 of assaulting a peace officer in San Bernardino County and sentenced to four years in prison. He was released after serving three years and sent back in 1997 on a parole violation.

After his release in 1999, McGhee was found guilty of again violating parole and returned to prison in 2000.

Two years later, McGhee was on the run after authorities wanted him for questioning in connection with the homicides.

Appearing on the U.S. Marshals Service list of the 15 most-wanted fugitives, he was arrested in Bullhead City, Ariz., after being spotted by someone who saw his photograph in a newspaper.

At the time of his arrest, McGhee smiled at spectators. Authorities later reported seizing a T-shirt that exemplified his bravado. It read: “Fugitive. Can’t see me.”

The jury that convicted McGhee returns to the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry today to begin the death penalty phase of the case.

McGhee faces either execution or life without the possibility of parole.

Citing the pending penalty phase, prosecutor Hoon Chun declined to make a statement Thursday on the jury’s verdicts.

McGhee’s attorney, H. Clay Jacke, could not be reached for comment.

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