SAN FRANCISCO - The California Supreme Court on Monday tossed out the murder convictions and death sentences of a Los Angeles gang leader who authorities believe was the "shot caller" responsible for as many as 60 killings.
Cleamon "Big Evil" Johnson led the 89 Family Bloods during the 1980s and early 1990s. Authorities allege the 80 members of Johnson's gang were responsible for more than 60 slayings on their turf, which stretched for a quarter of a square mile in the heart of South-Central Los Angeles.
Johnson was convicted in 1997, along with Michael "Fat Rat" Allen, of murdering two rival gang members six years earlier. Prosecutors allege that Johnson ordered Allen to kill the rivals with an Uzi.
The rivals were killed at a South-Central car wash before dozens of witnesses, but no one would admit to witnessing the shooting. A task force with the help of federal officials finally got witnesses to come forward and put Johnson behind bars.
A unanimous high court found that the judge presiding over the 1997 murder trial erred in removing a juror accused of deciding the case before deliberations. The juror denied making up his mind before deliberations began, and the Supreme Court said it appeared he was a responsible juror.
Allen's conviction and death sentence also were overturned.
Los Angeles prosecutors will have to seek a new trial if they want to reinstate those convictions and death penalties.