Rare death penalty case begins in SF

February 23, 2009 12:49:51 PM PST
A U.S. District Court jury heard opening statements in San Francisco Monday morning in a rare federal death penalty case.

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Dennis Cyrus, an alleged member of a violent San Francisco drug gang known as the Page Street Gang, is accused of committing three murders in 2002 in aid of the federal crime of racketeering, or running a continuing criminal enterprise.

If convicted, he could face a federal death penalty.

Prosecutor William Frentzen told a jury in the court of U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney that Cyrus committed the murders at age 18 because he wanted gang status as a "head buster."

Cyrus is also accused of racketeering, conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and using guns in violent crimes.

The gang operated San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood. Other gang members have pleaded guilty to various crimes but Cyrus is the only one who could face the death penalty.

Defense attorneys were slated to give their opening statements later today. The trial is expected to last five months.

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