Trial begins for accused members of robbing crew

LAWRENCEVILLE - A predicted four-week trial is under way for the last two untried men suspected in a 2004 home-invasion rampage that terrorized immigrant communities across Gwinnett.

The nine-man posse is said to have tied up, robbed, tortured, sexually assaulted and shot victims between February and April 2004, targeting eight Hispanic families and one Jamaican family.

The last two defendants to fight the lengthy list of charges were sentenced to several centuries behind bars.

Facing a 49-count indictment, Javier Quiroz, 24, and Paulino Martinez, 26, sat attentively in collared shirts and dress pants during opening statements, while Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Debra Turner, who sentenced their alleged counterparts, presided.

"This case is about the American dream becoming the American nightmare," said Stephen Fern, Assistant District Attorney. "Where some people make their opportunity, some people take their opportunity.

"These two and their cohorts took the easy route."

Fern led jurors through a detailed narrative of the nine home invasions beginning Feb. 25. In one instance, a mother was stripped and sexually molested in front of her 6-year-old child; in another, a man who wouldn't divulge the location of stashed money was burned and cut with a knife made red-hot on a stove.

In each instance, Fern said, the methodical crew was masked, wore gloves and picked the homes clean of cash, jewelry and other smaller, less traceable valuables. The "elaborate operation" even had ranks, he said, as members were either drivers, gunmen, cover-men, searchers or lookouts.

Attorney Lawrence Lewis, representing Martinez, told jurors that no witnesses will be able to identify his client, which should cast doubt on his involvement.

Quiroz's attorney, David Whitman, argued his client was incarcerated in North Carolina on unrelated charges during the first two hits and was implicated only by the state's star witness and a mutual girlfriend.

Thus far, four members of the posse have been sentenced to more than 150 years in prison each after entering guilty pleas. The only two to fight the charges - Gustavo Cisneros and Mario Silverio - were sentenced by Turner to six life sentences plus more than 200 years.

The ninth suspect, a juvenile at the time, was mistakenly set free, prosecutors have said.

Testimony is expected to resume today and could last until late April.