Prosecution rests in Latin Kings trial

Posted: February 23, 2006

The prosecution concluded its case yesterday in the federal racketeering-murder trial of reputed Latin Kings leader William "King Homicide" Sosa and seven codefendants.

During five weeks of testimony, Sosa, 27, has been described as the volatile leader of a criminal enterprise who ordered killings, kidnappings and beatings while heading up the North Philadelphia-based street gang.

The case, which could go to the jury next week, includes charges of murder, murder conspiracy, kidnapping, rape, assault and drug dealing.

Federal prosecutors David Troyer and Barry Gross used the testimony of more than 30 witnesses and audiotape and videotape made during a two-year FBI investigation to build their case.

Witnesses described how Sosa, who was known as "King Homicide" by others in the gang, issued a series of "terminate on sight" orders while he attempted to take over a Vineland, N.J., branch of the Latin Kings.

Those called to the witness stand included Rafael "King Sun" Guzman, who described how he was forced at gunpoint from his Vineland home, taken to the basement of a house in North Philadelphia, and beaten for several hours.

Guzman said Sosa ordered others to cut off his hands with a machete, but he escaped before the order could be carried out. He became one of the first Latin Kings to cooperate with authorities.

The jury also heard from several other members, including Edwin "King Scarface" Vasquez, an admitted drug dealer who allowed the FBI to audiotape and videotape Latin Kings meetings held in his home, and Desiree Roman, Sosa's former girlfriend and the mother of his 19-month-old son.

Roman's appearance on the witness stand added a soap opera-like twist to the case. She detailed an eight-month battle with Sosa for legal custody of their young son. She said that she and the child are now living with Vasquez and that she is pregnant with his baby.

Roman said she was present when Sosa ordered one killing. She also described how female members of the organization - known as queens - were disciplined for violating the organization's rules.

One woman, she said, was beaten by several other women members. Another was told she would have her Latin King tattoos burned off. That threat, she said, was never carried out.

While the indictment includes several murder-conspiracy charges, prosecutors have tied one homicide to the organization - an October 2004 shooting outside the Zip Code Bar in North Philadelphia.

Authorities contend that Francisco "Toto" Gonzales was shot and killed on Sosa's orders because Gonzales had been boasting about being a Latin King when, in fact, he was not.

Defense attorneys, through their cross-examination, have tried to show that there were other motives unrelated to the Latin Kings for the killing.

The trial resumes today with the defense expected to call its first witnesses. Closing arguments and jury deliberation are likely to start early next week.

Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.

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