Gangster-turned-informant draws crowd to courthouse

FRESNO, Calif.

A double murder case was the center of attention Monday, but it's just the first case with the same key witness -- a former gang leader now in hiding.

Cesar Garcia is the former gang leader who wore a wire and helped police close dozens of cases, including six murders. Officers took extreme measures to protect Garcia as he took the witness stand for the first time.

Police officers in protective gear, in uniform, and out of uniform swarmed the courthouse -- at the courthouse entrance, in the hallways and in the courtroom.

The massive security force came for a man they're trying to keep as invisible as possible. Garcia wore a wire and collected evidence against his Norteno counterparts in Reedley. Action News was there during the huge gang sweep that followed. But defense attorneys say he can't be trusted.

"You do get something out of [being an informant] and it's substantial," said attorney Ralph Torres, who represents Hector Trejo, one of the two men in whose case Garcia testified Monday. "It provides a reason to entrap."

The judge wouldn't allow our cameras in court as Garcia took the stand in a preliminary hearing Trejo and Manuel Villanueva, two of the suspects arrested in the October 2010 sweep.

Officers brought in Garcia through a back corridor and at least ten armed officers sat in the courtroom during his testimony.

Garcia recorded Trejo and Villanueva discussing details of a murder in Reedley in April 2009. But Torres says the recordings are no more than young gang associates trying to impress an elder.

"Everybody knew how [the murders] happened," he said. "Everybody knew where the shots were. Small town, the type of people there -- we all knew about it. So what does it mean that they know something? You're talking about bravado with no substance."

Garcia says he wore the wire because he wanted to start a new life for himself and his family. He's now living with police protection and he's expected to testify in the six murder cases against 11 different defendants. Garcia says, now that he's testified, every Norteno from Delano to San Jose will want to murder him.

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