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Gang Leader’s Penalty Trial Begins in L.A.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The federal jury that convicted Mexican Mafia leader Mariano Martinez two weeks ago on charges of murdering three people and ordering hits on eight others reassembled Tuesday to decide whether he should live or die.

As the penalty phase of Martinez’s trial got underway in Los Angeles, the jury of six women and six men heard somber statements about the death penalty from a U.S. Justice Department prosecutor and the defendant’s court-appointed lawyer.

“This is the most deeply personal decision that each of you will ever have to make in your entire life,” defense attorney Mark Overland told the panel.

In the end, he said, “you will have to ask yourself this question: Do I want to give the order to kill Mariano Martinez?”

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Justice Department attorney Richard Burns said that, given Martinez’s crimes, the death sentence is “richly deserved.”

This is the first death penalty case tried in Los Angeles federal court in half a century. The jury will have to choose between execution and life in prison for the 42-year-old defendant.

Burns said Martinez meets all the legal criteria to justify a death sentence: He ordered multiple murders with deliberate intent and after substantial planning. In addition, he said, Martinez has a long history of violence and has shown no remorse.

Overland said defense witnesses will testify about “the good aspect of the complex character of Mariano Martinez,” including his efforts to establish peace among warring street gangs in the Los Angeles area.

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