2 gang members found in contempt Refuse to testify

Chicago Sun-Times,  Aug 24, 2001  by Steve Warmbir

Two gang members were held in contempt of court Thursday after they refused to testify in the upcoming murder trial of a reputed high-ranking member of the Mickey Cobra gang, saying they feared for their lives.

U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning ruled that the two men, who weren't even referred to by their real names in court--only as witness A and witness B--didn't meet the legal standard for refusing to testify against alleged Mickey Cobra don Clarence Hankton.

Both men claimed they had been threatened by gang members or associates if they testified against Hankton, who is charged with ordering the 1994 beating death of a 24-year-old woman outside the Chicago Housing Authority's Cabrini-Green apartment complex.

The exact nature of the threats wasn't disclosed in court, and documents describing them remain sealed.

The two gang members refusing to testify have already been found guilty of killing the woman and are serving lengthy prison sentences. Being found in contempt isn't expected to add much time to their stay behind bars.

Federal prosecutors were seeking to force the two men's testimony, but they balked, even refusing to answer questions during depositions that were taken before the trial.

The murder trial against Hankton had been scheduled to start Monday this week, but prosecutors asked for a delay, given their witness problems.

The two gang members are being held in federal custody, and they told the judge again on Thursday, when questioned, that they would not testify.

One of the men's attorneys, Sergio Rodriguez, said outside court that his client "especially" feared for his family's safety if he were forced to take the stand.

Hankton also faces charges for his alleged role in a vast drug conspiracy involving roughly 20 other Mickey Cobra gang members. Hankton was snared after investigators tapped his cell phone, authorities said.