They called themselves the Taliban Survival Corp., putting the name on T-shirts and music CD labels.
Defense attorney John Hall Thomas called the group of young men budding rap musicians.
Murderous gangsters was more like it, Orleans Parish prosecutor Inga Petrovich argued.
“This is a case of life imitating art,” Petrovich told a Criminal District Court jury Wednesday. “The problem is, this isn’t Johnny Cash singing about killing somebody. This isn’t a song simply about murdering somebody.”
Tyrone “Tyga” Davenport and Dale “Check Peazy” Elmore were even more reckless than that, Petrovich said, speeding along the Pontchartrain Expressway on Jan. 5, 2011, in a silver Ford Explorer to catch up with 20-year-old Ralph Bias, who was at the wheel of a black Chevy Camaro.
Gunfire from the rented Explorer killed Bias by the Broad Street overpass, sending the Camaro spinning. Corey Martin, who was shot five times, survived, only to be attacked again later.
Prosecutors say it was the work of a street gang that spent five years in a campaign of violence and intimidation.
Martin is expected to testify reluctantly during the trial of two of eight defendants in a state gang racketeering case centered on Bias’ murder and the repeated attacks on Martin.
Petrovich acknowledged that Martin, the key witness, “doesn’t want to be here. He doesn’t want to participate. But he will be here.”
The 12-count indictment, handed up in August 2013, accuses alleged associates of “The Taliban,” also referred to as “Hot Glocks” or “P-Block,” of a host of gun and drug crimes and violence.
Petrovich said the group had targeted Martin since 2007, when his brother, 18-year-old Warren Martin, was killed about three blocks from the Taliban’s alleged territory, bounded by South Claiborne Avenue, Oak Street, the river and South Carrollton Avenue.
Two men, not named in the indictment, were suspected in Warren Martin’s murder, and one, Darnell Braud, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a 12-year sentence.
“Since that happened, Corey has lived in an environment of fear, intimidation. And he has been a continuous victim of violence,” Petrovich told the jury in her opening statement.
Elmore, Davenport and Jamal “Malloyn Calloyn” Harris had been previously indicted, in 2011, for the deadly expressway attack, two years before District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office filed its sixth indictment under a once-obscure state racketeering statute that mimics the federal statute created to go after the Mafia.
Harris also is named in the indictment and awaits trial along with others in the case.
Two of the eight defendants, Seyuntray “Brotha” Noel and Tyrone “Goggles” Brooks, have pleaded guilty to the main racketeering charge and other counts.
Davenport, 26, and Elmore, 24, sat at the defense table in crisp white dress shirts Wednesday at the start of a trial in which each faces racketeering, murder and attempted murder counts.
Their respective attorneys, Thomas and Eusi Phillips, aimed to cast doubt on the existence of the alleged crime organization and their clients’ roles in it.
Phillips quickly aimed to cast doubt on whatever Corey Martin might say on the witness stand.
“They never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” said Phillips, a former Orleans Parish prosecutor. “Ask them to show you: Where did this money go? Who keeps track of it? How do they invest it, in this criminal enterprise?”
He added, “This is a tale of racketeering with no racket.”
Thomas portrayed his client, Davenport, as a young rapper who mimicked the bravado of Cash Money Records artists, with nothing to back up the bluster.
“He’s not Tony Montana,” Thomas said, referring to the main character in the 1983 mob movie “Scarface.” “He’s staying at his grandma’s house.”
“The name of the group was not the Taliban,” he continued, “It was Taliban Survival Corp. They’re thinking they were young men, struggling against a young upbringing in a society that doesn’t value them.”
Judge Karen Herman is presiding over the trial.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.