At first, they were just North Miami middle school kids who liked to brawl.
But as they grew up, a prosecutor told jurors, the teens also wanted to "come up" — get guns, hit the streets and exact revenge for every petty slight and disrespect they got from rivals on North Miami's west side. So they engineered a daring heist, ramming a stolen station wagon through the storefront of a Miramar gun shop in March 2002 and making off with 33 guns.
"These kids — these soon-to-be Terrorist Boyz — were now armed and ready," prosecutor Joshua Weintraub told jurors on Tuesday during the opening day of a sprawling case that has dragged on in the legal system for years — making it the most expensive taxpayer-funded capital murder case in recent Florida history, even before any of the gang members had come to trial.
That gun ripoff, Weintraub said, was just the start. Week after week, the group dressed in black, pulled on ski masks and went on "missions" to find their enemies, repeatedly killing or wounding unsuspecting enemies, he said. "The spring of 2002 was a killing spree in North Miami and North Miami Beach. Murder after murder after murder. Out of control."
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It's the first of a string of Terrorist Boyz cases to go to trial — more than a decade after a grand jury first indicted five members of the Haitian-American street gang. Frantzy Jean-Marie, 35, faces the death penalty if convicted on four counts of first-degree murder; he also faces six counts of attempted murder.
In 2003, the gang's violence rocked North Miami-Dade and led to the creation of a task force and operation dubbed "Blazing Fort." In all, investigators believe, the Terrorist Boyz gang was responsible for at least 12 murders and dozens of shootings, although gang members have been charged in only nine murders.
Among the dead, investigators believe: a man the gang suspected of urinating on the flowers on the grave of one gang member's murdered brother; a 13-year-old boy shot dead while riding his bicycle home; and Gertrude LeFleur, a pregnant woman who identified the gang's ringleader as the man who robbed her.
That ringleader was Johnny Charles, also known as the ''Angel of Death,'' police said. The others charged: Benson Cadet, Max Daniel, Robert St. Germain and Jean-Marie. St. Germain pleaded guilty two years ago and agreed to a 12-year prison sentence.
Four others will serve as jailhouse witnesses against the gang — a clear target for defense lawyers looking to shift the blame.
"I don't know if I should call them rats, snitches, co-defendants, unindicted co-conspirators," Jean-Marie's defense lawyer G.P. Della Fera told jurors. "They're not nice people. You can call them liars."
The trial is expected to last more than one month before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dava Tunis.