Jurors will hear testimony beginning this week in the trial of two homeless men accused of the killing of a mentally ill man at a Seattle construction site nearly two and a half years ago.

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Jurors will hear testimony beginning this week in the trial of two homeless men accused of the killing of a mentally ill man at a Seattle construction site nearly two and a half years ago.

King County prosecutors allege that Noel Lopez, 25, was beaten to death by the defendants on April 14, 2008, because the homeless man had been flirting with a 15-year-old homeless girl. They also plan to present evidence showing that one of the defendants, Steven Bauder, an aspiring wrestler nicknamed “Enforcer,” was angry with Lopez for challenging him to a wrestling match.

But it’s what jurors won’t hear that will make the murder trial unusual.

If Bauder, 25, is convicted, prosecutors will seek to have his sentence enhanced by claiming he committed the murder as a member of a street gang, the Downtown Juggalos.

It will mark the first time that the King County Prosecutor’s Office has used the state’s gang statute in a case involving a Juggalo, a nickname for fans of the Detroit-based heavy metal/rap duo Insane Clown Posse.

“To my knowledge, we have not charged a gang aggravator with respect to the Juggalos,” said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. “However, regardless of the group, if the crime is committed to maintain yourself or advance yourself in an organization then we have proven a gang aggravator. We believe we have the evidence to do so in this case.”

Juggalos and Juggalettes — as female fans are called — are known for their devotion to the duo as well as their clownlike face paint, black clothing and affinity for the macabre. The band, through its website, touts a penchant for professional wrestling and what it calls the “Dark Carnival,” a mythological community “in which souls await their ultimate destiny in heaven or hell.”

While some fans have been blamed for violent acts, most fans as well as the Insane Clown Posse’s two artists — Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope — and their label, Psychopathic Records, have denounced violence.

Bauder, in an interview with police, said that he’s a Juggalo. Police said he has a tattoo on his left forearm of a running man with a hatchet, the logo of the Insane Clown Posse’s record label and a symbol among Juggalos.

But jurors will never hear about the Juggalos or Insane Clown Posse, though the details have long been part of the case in court filings and pretrial hearings. Instead, when Senior Deputy Prosecutor Cheryl Snow presents testimony to show that Bauder should face a stiffer sentence under the state’s gang statute, it will only be presented during a bench trial before Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer.

Schaffer ruled to have the testimony about Juggalos and Insane Clown Posse withheld from the jury after defense attorneys claimed it would be sensational and threatened to overshadow other aspects of the cases.

Under state law, a criminal defendant can face a harsher sentence if a jury — or judge — agrees that the crime can be linked to a street gang. The law is frequently used in crimes involving members of street gangs affiliated with Bloods, Crips and others.

Co-defendant Marcus Dennis, 22, is not believed to be a Juggalo. He and Bauder are each charged with first-degree murder.

If jurors find one or both men guilty, a second trial will be convened for testimony on alleged aggravating factors that can lead to longer prison terms, prosecutors said.

Snow, outlining her trial strategy in a pretrial memo, wrote that she will be asking jurors to find the men guilty of several aggravating factors, including that they acted with “deliberate cruelty” and had an “egregious lack of remorse.” Evidence about these aggravators will be presented to the jury, Snow said.

If convicted on the murder charge and the aggravating factors, the men face anywhere from 20 years to life in prison, Goodhew said.

According to court filings, Bauder had been living in Oregon before the attack but traveled to Seattle because several girls needed him to “straighten out” Lopez because the man had been flirting with the girl.

“We were trying to make a point, that you don’t force yourself on someone and you don’t treat people bad,” Bauder told police, according to the charges. “We just wanted him to atone for his sins, but he took the coward’s way out and died.”

Bauder told police that on the day of the attack he and Lopez got into a wresting match to determine who was the “King” of Freeway Park, court filings said. Freeway Park is a city-run park at 700 Seneca St.

After Bauder won the fight, he walked with Dennis and Lopez to the construction site in the 1000 block of Fourth Avenue, charges said. Once there, Bauder told police, Lopez “came at him.” At some point Bauder picked the man up and slammed him to the ground, charging papers said.

Dennis, whose nickname is “Smurf,” is accused of striking Lopez with wood boards and other items at the construction site.

In pushing for the aggravating factors, prosecutors are expected to try to convince jurors of Lopez’s vulnerability.

In the weeks before his death, Lopez’s mental health was slipping, prosecutors said. He had been evicted from his downtown studio apartment, dropped out of the Art Institute of Seattle and was living among other homeless youth. He called his family in Texas to say that he had met a 15-year-old girl and wanted to “adopt her,” according to court filings.

Lopez believed he was a superhero who could walk through walls and had special powers, authorities said. When police found his body he was wearing a Batman costume underneath his clothing, court filings said.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com