SAN DIEGO — A gang member and local rap artist Michael Baraka Mason aka Don Diego who had been featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” was convicted of murder and other charges for his role in the shooting deaths of three people in 2005 and 2007 in San Diego.
After deliberating five days, a jury found Michael Baraka Mason, 36, guilty of several felonies and special-circumstance allegations, which made him eligible for the death penalty.
A second phase of the trial is expected to begin, when the same jury will consider whether to recommend Mason’s execution or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The verdicts came a day after voters rejected Proposition 34, which would have eliminated California’s death penalty.
Prosecutors argued in Mason’s case that the first killings occurred in 2005, after several members of a southeastern San Diego gang had been released from jail or prison. They saw the younger gang members making money without sharing with their older counterparts, a violation of the gang’s unwritten rules.
Deputy District Attorney Anthony Campagna told the jury that Mason and others targeted a house on Velma Terrace in Valencia Park because it was rumored that a younger gang member had hidden money there.
On Nov. 25, 2005, a group of armed, masked suspects broke into the house and demanded money.
Five people were bound and held in the home for more than seven hours, while the intruders searched the house and backyard for cash. They did not find any.
Two of the victims, Meico McGhee, 30, and Sacha Newbern, 25, were forced into a bathroom where they were shot. Their bodies were found in a bathtub.
Mason’s DNA was found on a cigarette floating in a toilet.
“He was one of the perpetrators of the killings of Meico and Sacha,” the prosecutor said, adding that Mason had no other connection to the house or anyone who lived there.
Later, another man told police that Mason had bragged about his involvement in the shooting.
Mason’s lawyer, Paul Pfingst, argued in trial that his client was a well-known rap artist and promoter, and there was no evidence he needed money. Pfingst noted Wednesday that the jury did not find gun-use allegations to be true in the case of the home invasion.
“He did not kill the two people at Velma Terrace,” Pfingst said. “He was not armed.”
Detectives looked for Mason in San Diego after the shooting, prosecutors said, but were unable to find him. He was featured on “America’s Most Wanted” in 2006 and 2007.
After the second airing, Mason was involved in a robbery and fatal shooting in North Park, prosecutors said.
The gunman stalked a Clairemont man and his girlfriend on July 14, 2007, after they left a bar near 30th Street and Adams Avenue, passed an alley and walked toward a car. Mason approached the couple and demanded money, before shooting both of them.
Timothy Traaen, 30, was killed. The girlfriend, who testified in the trial, was not able to identify Mason as the shooter.
Prosecutors said Mason was involved in two other nonfatal shootings in August of that year: one at a house on Capistrano Avenue in Spring Valley, and another on Keeler Avenue in Southcrest. Police recovered a revolver used in those shootings and the murder of Traaen. Mason’s DNA was on the gun.
He was arrested in Las Vegas in 2008.