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