Wicked Town street gang boss, shooter convicted in reign of violence on the West Side
The trial of Donald “Lil’ Don” Lee and Torance “Blackie” Benson stretched across more than nine weeks and repeatedly exposed jurors to evidence of brutal murders.
A federal jury Tuesday convicted the head of the relentlessly violent Wicked Town street gang and held him responsible for six murders at the end of a two-month racketeering conspiracy trial.
The jurors who convicted Donald “Lil’ Don” Lee, 40, found that many of the killings in Wicked Town’s reign of violence on the West Side were “committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner.”
The jury also convicted Torance “Blackie” Benson, 30, a “shooter” for the gang, holding him responsible for one killing and three attempted murders.
After reading the verdict, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin thanked the jurors and called their service “incredible.” He did not set a sentencing hearing for Lee or Benson. Lee faces a mandatory life sentence, and Benson faces a maximum of life behind bars.
The two men showed no obvious reaction when the verdict was read in the courtroom.
U.S. Attorney John Lausch said the investigation into the Wicked Town gang was led for years by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as the Chicago Police Department. But many federal, state and local agencies helped along the way.
Lausch said the trial involved more than 100 witnesses and likely more than 1,000 exhibits.
“There’s not many gang cases like this one,” Lausch said. “This was truly remarkable in its scope and its breadth, and it really is a result of the persistence of law enforcement.”
The trial of Lee and Benson stretched across more than nine weeks and repeatedly exposed jurors to evidence of brutal violence. The two men were among 13 people charged in an indictment last year that tied the gang to 19 murders. The other 11 defendants have since pleaded guilty.
The jury heard from many other members of Wicked Town who admitted their own crimes, including murder.
One, Deshawn Morgan, even acknowledged sending a longtime friend to his death because of the mistaken suspicion that the friend had snitched on him to authorities.
That friend, Donald Holmes Jr., was shot to death along with Diane Taylor in a Jeep Cherokee on Jan. 31, 2018, in the 4700 block of Arthington Street. Authorities say Darius “Skudder” Murphy was later caught on tape bragging that he shot Holmes and Taylor in their heads. The Jeep was sitting outside Murphy’s home at the time of the killings. Murphy has since admitted killing them.
Jurors last month saw images from the bloody aftermath of the shooting. Morgan testified that Lee later told him “it was a dumb idea” to have the pair killed right in front of Murphy’s house.
Defense attorneys for Lee and Benson urged the jury not to trust such witnesses, arguing they were simply trying to shorten the lengthy prison sentences they are also likely to serve by telling lies to help prosecutors. Lee attorney Lisa Wood insisted the case amounted to a “house of cards” that would “crumble with just the slightest touch.”
She also said the trial was not a “town hall meeting” and the verdict would “say nothing” about the scourge of street-gang violence in Chicago.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Mitchell countered that, if the defense attorneys’ argument about lying witnesses were true, the witnesses “would have told better lies.”
The Wicked Town conspiracy spanned two decades, from July 2000 to August 2020.
Prosecutors said three rules governed the gang, which was a faction of the Traveling Vice Lords. Wicked Town members were never to lose a gun or talk to law enforcement. And they were expected to use violence to advance their goals.
“You don’t ever sell one of the guns that can save one of the guys’ life,” Lee told a fellow gang member in an April 2019 phone call, according to the evidence.
Prosecutors said Lee rose within Wicked Town’s ranks by killing three people in three years. Wood said that her client had no direct involvement in several of the murders at issue in the case, but Mitchell countered that it didn’t matter, that what mattered was whether Lee and Benson agreed those crimes should be committed to help Wicked Town.
Jurors found the Wicked Town conspiracy included the murders of Lamont Ware in July 2000; Ernest Moore in December 2002; John Johnson in June 2003; Charlie Weathers in May 2015; Malcolm Wille in July 2015; Kishaun Mobley in December 2017; and Martel Howard in January 2016.