L.A. jury deadlocks on killer’s sentencing

'Killer with a gun'

‘Killer with a gun’: McGhee was described as a thrill killer who murdered two rival gang members and the girlfriend of a rival gang member.
Prosecutors will retry the penalty phase in the trial of a street gang boss convicted last month of murdering three people.
By John Spano, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 10, 2007
A Los Angeles jury deadlocked Friday over sentencing a notorious street gang boss who had taunted one of his murder victims before he took his life.

The same jurors two weeks ago convicted Timothy McGhee, 34, the swaggering, much-feared chief of the Toonerville gang, of three murders and four attempted murders. They split 10 to 2 in favor of the death penalty for McGhee; the only alternative was life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Hoon Chun said prosecutors will retry the penalty phase of McGhee’s case. Under California law, the convictions will stand.

The trial presented a chilling portrayal of life on gang turf, principally Atwater Village, with testimony of deadly violence employed casually to protect the organization’s narcotics sales.

McGhee was described as a thrill killer who murdered two rival gang members and the girlfriend of a rival gang member. Prosecutors used lyrics to rap music that McGhee had composed for his girlfriend to help prove his guilt.

Chun recited McGhee’s lyrics for the jury: “Here I come, last chance to run. Killer with a gun. Out to have some fun. In my dreams, I hear screams. Pleasure I feel is so obscene.”

Rival gang members were fearful of testifying. One neighborhood resident was so frightened that her hands shook as she took the witness stand. Prosecutors played a videotape of a police interrogation that offered a possible explanation for the pervasive fear.

On the tape, a Toonerville gang associate, Christina Duran, reluctantly told officers that McGhee was at the scene of a murder. Duran also urgently and repeatedly stated her fear of retribution.

Two days later, she was murdered, prosecutors said.

“The feeling I got was that I sort of can understand why people don’t want to get involved. Why should you volunteer any information? Its almost like there’s nothing to gain and everything to lose,” said one of 10 jurors who favored the death penalty for McGhee.

The juror, a 50-year-old Los Angeles resident who asked that she not be identified, said the two panelists who voted against execution felt that McGhee, who grew up without a father, should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“If that’s not a case for the harshest penalty, what would be?” the juror said. “What would it take to tip the scales? That’s the way most of us felt.”

Defense attorney Franklin Peters Jr. said Friday that he was gratified with the result, adding that he is in the business of “saving lives.”

Peters said he would represent McGhee at the retrial.

“There were two people who disagreed and who felt there were some redeeming qualities of the defendant that deserves a verdict other than death,” Peters said. He cited testimony that McGhee has raised three children and five stepchildren.

During the trial, McGhee wore a dark suit. His hair had grown out, covering a tattoo of an eagle clutching a snake in the colors of the Mexican flag on his skull that a witness said helped her place McGhee at one of the crime scenes.

McGhee dropped his girlfriend’s cellphone at a murder scene — critical evidence in his conviction for that crime.

He was a fugitive for almost a year, making the U.S. Marshals Service’s most-wanted list. When he was arrested in Bullhead City, Ariz., police seized a T-shirt imprinted with advice for eluding police: “Throw a donut.”

According to testimony, McGhee taunted one of his victims, telling him before firing the fatal shots into his skull, “Die like a man.”

Chun had urged jurors to remember that comment when they considered the defense’s pleas for mercy.

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