Gang Trial - Week 6
Note: To catch up on the first five weeks of this drug gang, murder trial of Sammy and Juan Duque, Marco Antonio Cordero, Daniel Villenas-Reyes, and Shane Rosser, go to “Archives”, and click on “Feature Stories”.
Jury deliberations continue late Friday afternoon, in this case. However, Assistant United States Attorney Kim Dammers, was heralded for her work in an Atlanta case she prosecuted late last fall along with Assistant United States Attorney Paul Jones. See Breaking News for today’s sentencing in the Sur 13 Gang conviction Dammers and her team won in two separate trials, one ending September 6, 2007, and the related case ending on October 25, 2006.
Jury deliberations will continue in the local federal Mexican Mafia case on Monday, at 9:30 am, when Judge Harold Murphy will return to court.
Thursday Evening Update -
Tonight’s post will be scant, as today was spent waiting while the jury began deliberations. The court was reconvened twice, so that Federal Judge Harold Murphy could address specific questions which the jury had.
In the first instance, jurors had inquired as to how to handle a jury form about drug quantity, if the quantity in the indictment was not specified. It was agreed by both prosecution and defense that the amounts referred to were misdemeanor in this particular instance, and that the government had not necessarily intended to charge for the small amount.
In the second instance, jurors wanted to see evidence which was gathered at a particular time and place, the January 10, 2004 arrest of Villenas-Reyes in an hotel where some amounts of pot were seized, as well as a gun. Once again, both defense and prosecution agreed that no evidence was produced at trial, simply because it was not the primary focus of the arrest of Villenas-Reyes, who was a fugitive from justice.
In both questions, Judge Murphy hammered out appropriate and specific language to instruct the jury with regards to their particular questions.
The jury was called back in to the court room one final time near 5:00pm, so that Judge Murphy could explain what was to be done in his absence tomorrow. Murphy said that he would allow the jury to deliberate in his absence, but that if they had questions, those questions would have to wait until his return on Monday morning. Similarly, if the jury reaches a verdict tomorrow, the decision will be sealed in an envelope, to be held by the Clerk of Court, and opened on Monday when all return.
Judge Murphy also advised the defense team that the defendants would not be required tomorrow.
Jury Deliberations will resume tomorrow at 9:30am.
Wednesday Evening, February 20, 2008 -
*Warning: Much of this installment contains my opinion.
Today was packed with zingers in the closing arguments by the rest of the defense team, and I found much to admire, and much to take issue with. Joining Matt Dodge in clear, focused and reasoned closing arguments were defense attorneys Bob Citronberg and Barry Lombardo.
One federal official responding to my opinion that Dodge was one of the best of the team, told me that I would enjoy Citronberg’s closing as well. This public servant was not far off. I watched as Citronberg, just as my public servant friend had predicted, comfortably and expertly honed in on each salient point which could possibly be raised as approaching reasonable doubt. I was not convinced after his presentation, but I have heard all of the evidence, and I must say that Citronberg was facing insurmountable odds. But, his presentation was, none the less, almost flawless.
While not the next defense attorney up, and in fact, the very last defense attorney up, Gentleman Barry Lombardo, representing Juan Duque, fits in with Dodge and Citronberg in several areas. I say “Gentleman”, because throughout the entire trial, while cross examining witnesses, Lombardo has never once attacked a government witness, has never once raised his voice in feigned anger to intimidate and humiliate a witness, has never once played to the jury. He has quietly, in his own way, chipped away with questions which would single out his client from the rest of the pack.
His presentation was brief, when compared to the others, and yet every single point was so well defined, so salient and so simply expressed, that when he sat down, his client was the only one whose level of involvement in this conspiracy I questioned. And he did it all without yelling, flailing his arms, and painting mustaches on the prosecution.
Which leads me to the two remaining attorneys, which made closing arguments. (Local attorney Jason Lewis, part of Daniel Villenas-Reyes’s team, allowed Citronberg to close for them). Clay Whitaker for Sammy Duque, and Mike Trost for Shane Rosser, presented closing arguments after Citronberg, but their tones were nasty and hysterical.
As I told Mr. Whitaker in the lobby during the break, I was half expecting an invitation and alter call at the end of his spectacle. Whitaker yelled, slammed his hand down, shimmied across the floor of the court room and accused the prosecution of having black hearts, such that I thought I was in a Pentecostal tent revival. (Trust me, I have been to my share). But it was feigned theatrics, during which Whitaker made up facts, and revised history such that I became angry. I do not think that in this day and age of cable television, with access for decades, now, to various forms of law firm based drama and comedy, that the average jury person will be impressed with those false theatrics. I think today’s jury person is a little more savvy, a little more educated, a little more sophisticated to buy that sort of melodrama.
In fact, I think that that sort of display, especially when you start accusing the government of having black hearts, and making them out to be the villains, turns jurors off. Everyone, including the government, makes mistakes, so why not point out the mistakes and underscore the inconsistencies, as Dodge, Citronberg and Lombardo did, and allow those to speak for themselves.
But Whitaker even singled out Special Agent Bob Meadows as having been too far reaching, to greedy, for the apple high up in the tree. He accused Meadows of having desired that apple so much, that he climbed too far out on the limb, dragging the prosecutors with him, until the branch broke. The analogy would have been much better if the facts Whitaker was attempting to paint this picture with, had been based in reality. But in his revisionist history, he even put words in Special Agent J.P. Foster’s mouth, which I came home and compared, this evening, to my own notes to be sure. He said he was not accusing Foster of intentional falsehood, as he understood Foster had been ill during his testimony. (Foster has battled pneumonia during much of this trial).
But for Whitaker to accuse a man of falsehoods, when he himself is in the midst of creating fiction, is beyond the pale, to me.
Mike Trost was not much better, and early in his presentation, said that he was borrowing from a politician who would remain unnamed, but that he, Trost, would be revealing some “Inconvenient Truths”. I thought to myself that if as many of Trost’s “truths” were as unreliable as many of Al Gore’s “Truths”, then the prosecution would have a slam dunk. (Remember, even I came in to this trial believing that there was a possibility that his client was innocent).
I am guessing that using an Al Gore analogy in a southern state which has appeared red on the political maps for about a decade now, probably did not win his client any points, either.
But Trost even went on, at one point, and compared the government to the Great Oz. He actually told the court that he saw himself as the nippy little dog, Toto, pulling back the curtain, and revealing the Great Oz for his fraud. But Trost’s defense of Shane Rosser had too many whistles and bells, and making the government out to be a devil probably only turned jurors off.
I wrote yesterday about how mesmerizing Assistant United States Attorney, Kim Dammers’ closing arguments were. I never once looked at the clock during that close.
This afternoon, Assistant United States Attorney, William Traynor turned in an equally brilliant performance. I wonder if this jury appreciates the level of prosecution they have been treated to during this last six weeks.
Traynor picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the defense team, and with eloquence, addressed the Apple scenario specifically. But first, he began his rebuttal with humor. He joked that after the brutal attacks on Special Agents Meadows and Foster, they all wanted to know how Special Agent Tim Everhart had escaped unscathed. The jury obviously appreciated this bit of humor.
Traynor told the jury that he had gone to his bosses before, and had dismissed cases he did not feel were good cases, and that he had been with the 11th District Federal Court for awhile, and has had to admit mistakes at times. But he was not apologizing for this case. He was sure of this case, and it was evident in the tone of his voice.
Traynor stepped up to the apple analogy of Whitaker’s, and said that recently, he had undertaken an exhaustive study of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah. Traynor related that the general consensus of historians is that this was written in approximately 600 BC, and that it had lived for over 2600 years. He said that regardless of how you perceive these first five books, historically or religiously, that most of us were familiar with these stories.
He told jurors that in Chapter 3:12, of Genesis, when God confronted Adam about eating the apple, that Adam blamed God and Eve for his sin. “And the man said, ‘The woman that thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat”. Next he related to jurors that when Cain slew Abel, and God asked Cain “What hast thou done?”, that Cain lied, and said that he didn’t know where his brother was.
Traynor then told the court that throughout history, when man is confronted with his own sin, that denial and blame are the first two shields they raise. The points were pristine, and powerful, and while he could have rested after that, he did not, but instead presented point for point direct answers to most of the challenges raised. When the trial concluded, in this reporter’s opinion, there was a clear winner.
The jury will begin deliberations tomorrow morning at 9:30am
Tuesday Evening, February 19, 2008
Closing Arguments in this more than five week trial began this afternoon, as Assistant United States Attorney Kim Dammers began hurtling through time and space to recap a five year long case, which has been presented in five weeks.
Dammers held the court room spellbound as she time-lapsed drug deals and intimidation, murders and arson, in a clear and well organized Power Point presentation. I never once looked at the clock during the whirlwind, and when she thanked the jurors at the conclusion, and Judge Murphy recessed for s short break, I was breathless.
During her close, Dammers contrasted what was necessary to prove conspiracy and establish a criminal enterprise, under RICO statues, and what was not. She ticked off the elements of an enterprise, and gave examples of each:
Dammers also presented, for the jury’s consideration, a time line, which showed the level of continuity in the enterprise.
Once Dammers concluded, Matt Dodge was the first defense attorney off of the starting block, for the defense team’s closings, and while the individual attorneys have, at times, tag teamed throughout the five weeks, once Matt Dodge took center stage, it was obvious that it was every man for himself.
Dodge tried to distance his client from the rest of the co-conspirators, and as on the first day of opening arguments, attempted to paint Cordero as a loan wolf, the fellow at one end of the basketball court shooting hoops by himself, while a game of pickup takes place amongst friends at the other end of the court.
And, as he did in opening arguments, Dodge also presented a Power Point presentation.
He countered Dammers’, (and indeed the actual law’s requirements to establish a criminal enterprises), by telling the court that he always thought of an enterprise as having:
Dodge then went a baby step too far, and compared the Police Departments to enterprises, as they have a name, (Dodge used the Cedartown Police in his example), rules and regulations, uniforms, headquarters and special cars and a business plan.
Dodge then went on to point out some inconsistencies with various testimonies, which he insisted cleared his client of any involvement in RICO or Drug conspiracies.
The rest of the defense team will begin presenting their closing arguments at 9:30 tomorrow morning. At this time, it is anticipated that the jury will get their instructions after lunch tomorrow.
Tuesday Morning, February 19, 2008
The defense continued putting witnesses on the stand, most of which testified to knowing or being related to Shane Rosser, or his parents, and for the most part gave vague testimony about whether or not over the course of time they had seen certain vehicles or persons at either Shane Rosser’s or his parent’s houses. Chris Binkley, Linda McDaniel, Wayne Camp, and Sheldon Garrett each took the stand on behalf of Rosser.
Defense attorneys Whitaker and Lombardo also put witnesses on the stand on behalf of their clients, brothers Sammy Duque and Juan Duque. In addition to their sister Bertha Duque, of Cedartown, Ian Sifford of Farley and Associates, a South Carolina based construction company, testified about how both Duque’s worked for his company. Juan Duque worked for one month, from August through September of 2002. His brother, Sammy Duque worked for approximately six months, but under a false identity, as Fernando Martinez, from September of 2003 through March of 2004.
Shortly before lunch, Judge Harold Murphy dismissed the jury, and covered his rulings on charges to the jury with the prosecution and defense. Closing arguments will begin this afternoon at 1:30 pm.
The Elephants in the Court Room
Testimony will resume on Tuesday morning, in the sixth week of the 29 man indictment, here in Rome at the Federal Courthouse. The trial has centered around the last of the six men accused in the conspiracy, and for whom murder charges hang in the balance. The trial began originally five weeks ago with six defendants, Shane Rosser, Josh Smith, Marco Antonio Cordero, Daniel Villenas-Reyes, Sammy Duque and Juan Duque.
However, several weeks ago, defendant Josh Smith took a guilty plea, confessing about his part in the Cunning Road, Rome Georgia murders of Chris Fortenberry and T.J. Agan. According to Smith, Shane Rosser was the trigger man, killing Agan before Smith entered the trailer on that March 27, 2003 evening. But Smith admitted that he stood by, after refusing to murder Fortenberry, and did not prevent the execution of Fortenberry by Rosser.
Josh Smith will serve a minimum of thirty years in federal prison, for his part in the Criminal Conspiracy.
But this case has had much larger implications than even the other of the 29 persons named in this federal indictment. This case included more murders than the Cunningham Road murders in Rome, on March 27, 2003, and the three murders at the house of prostitution on 7th Street in Cedartown, Georgia, on September 16, 2003, where all three victims were shot in the head, and burned, one of them still alive.
This case crossed many state boundaries, most prominently the Georgia-Alabama line, and originally included almost fifty defendants. In an effort to organize and control the huge case, federal authorities split the case in to two groups, based roughly around more violence/less violence. All of the first 24 codefendants have plead guilty to their various charges, and most of the 29 in this present case have.
Five young men remain.
But there are other murders, other places, other names which are screaming from the partial testimony. Here are some of the elephants in the courtroom:
1. We know from early testimony in this case that one of the regular drug dealers was Glen Glaze, the founder of the motorcycle gang, Southerners United. He owned the Ice House Bar, in Cedartown, Georgia, where gang members hung out, and where drugs were bought and sold.
We know from corroborating testimony that Daniel Villenas-Reyes sold drugs to the victims at the 7th Street Murder scene, AND that he was the shooter and arsonist in those murders on September 16, 2003.
We know from corroborating testimony that Glenn Glaze died, and from officials who have spoken off the record, that he was murdered, shot in the chest, on September 14, 2003.
We know from testimony by Maricella Martinez, the wife of Daniel Villenas-Reyes that she went collect money from Glen Glaze twice on the same day, hours before he was murdered.
We know from testimony by Amanda Sorrells, former girlfriend of Phil Smith, (Felipe Smith), that she and others specifically went to buy drugs from Carl Smith in Borden Springs, Alabama.
We know from corroborating testimony that Phil Smith died, and we learned that this occurred on January 24, 2003. RomeNewsByWatson.com learned from an official that Phil Smith died of a gunshot wound to the head, which they do not believe was a suicide, as local law enforcement in Polk County labeled it.
We know, from Amanda Sorrells’ testimony that after Phil Smith died, she became the girlfriend of Daniel Villenas-Reyes, and helped him run his drug business.
We know that Amanda Sorrells was present and witnessed in part, the murders/arson on 7th Street in Cedartown, Georgia.
We know from corroborating testimony, including Amanda Sorrells, that Billy Sims was involved in drug trafficking with the several of the defendants.
Searching archives in the Cleburne News, (Alabama), we find that Billy Sims was arrested for the murders of two other individuals, twins from Cedartown, Georgia, whose bodies were found in Borden Springs, Alabama. (Note: Thank you to the anonymous reader who clued me in).
Investigators from Georgia’s Polk County Police contacted Cleburne County authorities in September of 2003, to alert them that the two boys, who had been missing since July, were possibly buried there in Borden Springs.
Billy Don Sims,19, of Cedartown, Georgia, was arrested on homicide charges from Alabama warrants.
Officials close to the investigation believe that these murders, too, are connected to the Mexican Mafia Drug Gang, and drug debts owed to their member.
Testimony by Timothy Morrison, (aka Timothy Taylor), testified about how defendant Juan Duque approached him on New Years Eve of 2004, and told him that if he testified against him, or any other Mexican, he would kill Morrison.
From January 24, 2003, through September 16, 2003, the local Floyd County-Polk County branches of the Mexican Mafia was probably responsible for at least eight murders. We learned this week from Special Agent Tim Everhart, ICE, that defendants Marco Antonio Cordero and Daniel Villenas-Reyes had already been deported twice, and that Sammy Duque had been deported at least once. His brother, defendant Juan Duque, should not have been in this country, as his valid application for permanent residency had been denied after he was convicted in Cedartown on felony charges.
But they all found their way back to Polk County, Georgia to traffic in drugs, specifically methamphetamine, as part of the Mexican Mafia. However, let us not forget that Shane Rosser and Josh Smith as well as Billy Sims were part of the Mexican Mafia, as were more than forty other good old southern kids we know about. I already wrote this last week, but it bears repeating, so that we can know what is going on in our community and what price we are paying for illegal immigration in our communities.
The Mexican Mafia, has an American offshoot, Sur 13. “Sur” is short for “Surenos” or “Southsiders” or “Southerners”. The number “13” represents the 13th letter of the alphabet, “M”, which stands for the Mexican Mafia, aka “La Eme”. This gang originated in Los Angeles and Southern California, hence the name “Southerners”, which translates perfectly to the Deep South, both literally and figuratively.
One analogy would be that the Sur 13 is to the Mexican Mafia as the Masons are to the Shiner’s. Sur 13 is like a training ground for the Mexican Mafia. Members of Sur 13 may act as enforcers for the Mexican Mafia, and the hardest of members will eventually graduate in to the Mexican Mafia. (For more on gang activity, click on “Archives”, then “Breaking News” and find the September 13, 2007 reprint of a series I wrote for another news website back in June).
Testimony in the defense will resume Tuesday, at 9:30