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Potential jurors anonymous, still in court with alleged Hobos

Federal prosecutors say the photo shows a tattoo on Gregory Chester, alleged leader of the Hobos gang. The tattoo declares the gang's slogan: "The Earth Is Our Turf." | Provided photo

They talked about kids, pets, friends, jobs and guns — and even their own dirty laundry.

But potential jurors did not give their names as they appeared in a federal courtroom Wednesday where Chicago’s alleged Hobos “super gang” is going on trial this week. In a rare move typically reserved for mob or terrorism cases, U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp Jr. agreed to keep jurors anonymous out of concern for their safety.

Still, the potential jurors found themselves facing the six accused Hobo gang members in Tharp’s courtroom. The allegedly violent gang members wore suits, dress shirts and chunky sweaters as they studied the men and women who could decide their fate. Federal prosecutors have accused the men of committing nine murders, as well as a series of brazen robberies, home invasions and other crimes.

The final group of jurors will sit through a trial that is expected to last months.

The judge took roughly five hours to question the first 16 potential jurors from Chicago and its suburbs — a group that included a handful of retirees, a bartender, a college student and a man who has spent nearly four decades as a puppeteer.

“My parents forced me,” the puppeteer told the judge. “It’s my parents’ company.”

The puppeteer did not survive the first round of questioning, but 12 others did. The judge also said he would consider dismissing a woman who told the judge her husband is a deputy at the Cook County Jail and she would “have trouble” believing a criminal defendant over a law enforcement officer in court.

The judge has said opening statements will occur no sooner than Thursday, but lawyers must first get jury selection out of the way.

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Several potential jurors mentioned they had friends or relatives who work as police officers or prosecutors. A handful also said they have reservations about the role of handguns in society. One, a student at Truman College, said he was present when a friend was shot three or four years ago in Albany Park. He said his friend spent a week or two in the hospital.

Federal prosecutors say the Hobos, a “renegade group” of Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples and other gangs, terrorized Chicago’s South and West sides between 2004 and 2013. Among the defendants headed to trial are alleged Hobo leader Gregory “Bowlegs” Chester and alleged assassin Paris Poe.

Poe is accused of participating in the slayings of federal informant Keith Daniels and Chicago police informant Wilbert Moore. The feds also say he once threatened a police officer scheduled to testify against him, standing within two feet of the officer in a Cook County courthouse and saying, “You and the other officers will not make it to court.”