E.C. gang culture takes center stage at murder trial

2013-05-03T21:50:00Z 2013-05-04T00:25:40Z E.C. gang culture takes center stage at murder trialSusan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | A jury returned a verdict Friday on three of the five charges against an East Chicago gang member accused of shooting a man during a robbery attempt.

Those verdicts will remain sealed until the jury reaches a decision on the remaining two counts. The jury will resume deliberations on those Monday.

Gang culture in East Chicago played a key role this week in the murder trial. During closing arguments Friday, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Reginald Marcus told jurors "gang society," to which defendant Kevin Strong belongs, lives by a totally different set of values than the rest of society.

The teardrop tattoo on Strong's face is a symbol of gang culture, signifying a killing, he said.

Strong, 23, has been accused by co-defendant Jeremy Brazill of killing Jose Melendez, of East Chicago, one of two men who were shot minutes and blocks apart in July 2010.

In a plea deal with prosecutors, Brazill, 22, has admitted to killing the second man, gang member Cordell Allen, alleging Strong asked him to shoot Allen for "snitching" to police.

Strong and Brazill are each admitted members of rival East Chicago gangs.

Brazill entered into the plea agreement with prosecutors in May 2011, pleading guilty to reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempted robbery in Allen's shooting. He awaits sentencing.

Brazill this week testified Strong shot Melendez, an East Chicago family man and not a gang member, when he wouldn't surrender his van to the pair.

Defense attorney Scott King attacked Brazill's credibility, arguing Brazill had given police four separate versions of events before admitting to killing Allen.

King argued prosecutors never challenged Brazill's statements, instead opting to "make a deal with the devil" for his testimony against Strong.

King told jurors the bullets that killed Melendez and Allen came from a gun owned by Brazill, whose hand tested positive for gunpowder residue.

The bullet entry wound on Melendez's body indicated he was shot from the back similarly to Allen, King said.

Strong was guilty of gang activity as charged, King conceded. But Strong's only role was selling drugs, not killing customers, he said. Melendez, a cancer patient, had been trying to buy cocaine the night he was killed, King said.

Marcus conceded Brazill initially lied, but the prosecutor said Brazill kept to his story a year later.

The gun's ownership didn't matter so much as who used it, Marcus said.

The residue came from Allen's killing, which Brazill admitted to, he said.

While Brazill was caught following Allen's shooting, Strong fled and hid for months before being apprehended by police, indicative of guilt, he said.

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