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Judge sentences Down Below Gang members
who admitted to murder

By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service

March 29, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Two members of a violent San Francisco street gang who admitted responsibility for one or more murders were sentenced in federal court yesterday to prison terms ranging from 15 to 23 years.

Don Johnson, 21, and Dornell Ellis, 26, were among 12 members of the so-called "Down Below Gang" indicted in 2005 on 86 counts including racketeering, drug dealing, murder and attempted murder.

The gang operated in the Sunnydale housing project in the city's Visitacion Valley district and sold crack cocaine and used violence and intimidation to enforce control of its territory, according to the indictment.

Johnson and Ellis both pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William Alsup in December to a count of racketeering conspiracy.

Johnson admitted that his racketeering acts included aiding in two murders in 2004, conspiring in five attempted murders and conspiring to sell crack cocaine and marijuana.

Ellis admitted to participating in one murder and conspiring in an attempted murder.

Alsup sentenced Johnson to 23 years in prison and Ellis to 15 years and three months. The sentences were stipulated in the plea agreements.

The judge told the courtroom audience, which included relatives of the victims, that the crimes were the most serious he had seen while on the bench and said the sentences were "not severe enough."

He said, "I sympathize with those of you are saying 'This is too easy for the murders committed.'"

But Alsup said prosecutors were the best situated to evaluate the strength of their case and decide to reach a plea bargain instead of gong to a jury trial.

The judge said, "There are witnesses who will not come forward, who are intimidated or afraid."

When asked by Alsup whether he wanted to make a statement before being sentenced, Johnson said, "No."

Ellis said, "I apologize" for the crimes and said, "I feel for them (the family members) losing their loved ones."

At a separate hearing, Alsup sentenced another gang member, Paris Ragland, 21, to five and one-half years in prison for conspiring to distribute drugs.

Johnson, Ellis and Ragland were among eight of the original 12 gang defendants who pleaded guilty in December to charges of either racketeering conspiracy or drug conspiracy.

Johnson's 23-year sentence was the longest prison term agreed to in the eight pleas. Including those sentenced, all but one of those who pleaded guilty have now been sentenced.

Three other defendants are awaiting a Sept. 17 trial in Alsup's court.

Two of them, Edgar Diaz and Emile Fort, are each charged with committing three different murders in aid of racketeering, in addition to other counts, and face a possible federal death penalty if convicted.

The 12th defendant, whose name is under seal, is apparently a fugitive.

U.S. Attorney Scott Schools said after the sentencings, "Today's sentences demonstrate our commitment to putting violent gang members behind bars. We will continue to support the San Francisco Police Department and the FBI in investigating these cases to make our streets safer for the residents of San Francisco."

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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