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United States v. Stanley

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 3, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ARTHUR STANLEY, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL AND NEW TRIAL

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         A federal jury convicted defendant Arthur Stanley of murder under the federal Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (“VCAR”) statute. Stanley has filed motions for a judgment of acquittal or a new trial. For the reasons I explain below, I will deny these motions.

         Background

         On the night of July 15, 2011, a black Honda Accord pulled up outside a house on 67 Oakland Terrace in the North End of Hartford, Connecticut. Several gun shots were fired toward the house from the car, and the car then drove away. One of the shots struck Keith Washington in the head as he sat on the steps of the front porch. He died two days later in the hospital.

         For the next several years the murder of Keith Washington went unsolved and uncharged. Ultimately, however, a federal investigation concluded that it was Arthur Stanley who shot and killed Keith Washington, and a grand jury returned an indictment in October 2015 charging Stanley with a violent crime (murder) in aid of racketeering, 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1).[1]

         The case proceeded to a jury trial before me in December 2016, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty. My determination of Stanley's post-trial motions requires a detailed review of trial evidence, viewing the evidence as I must in the light most favorable to the jury's guilty verdict.

         Gangs and Rivalry in the North End of Hartford

         At trial the jury learned that in the summer of 2011 the North End of Hartford was rife with criminal gangs that controlled certain neighborhood territories where they sold drugs and where they violently excluded rival gangs. Doc. #135 at 46-56, 60, 100, 105-07; Doc. #136 at 182-86, 207-08. Two of the more prominent gangs were known as “Westhell” and “The Ave.” The Westhell gang was associated with the area of Westland Street, while the Ave was associated with the area of Albany Avenue. Doc. #135 at 57-60.

         For years Westhell and the Ave were in a feud with one another. Doc. #135 at 55-61, 107, 134; Doc. #136 at 180-83; Doc. #138 at 153-55. As one of the Ave's own members (Tyquan Lucien) described it at trial, there was “tension” and “beef” between Westhell and the Ave, with “lot[s] of shootings back and forth.” Doc. #136 at 183.

         A Hartford police sergeant (Anthony Pia) testified about his years of patrol in the areas controlled by Westhell and the Ave involving numerous gun and drug arrests involving both gangs. Doc. #138 at 25-27. Like other gangs in the North End of Hartford, Westhell marked its territory with graffiti. Doc. #135 at 56-57, 90, 134.

         Law enforcement officers testified at trial about how they saw Stanley near Westland Street in the Westhell area, and they also saw him associate with others such as Melkuan Scott and Rashad Matthews whom the Government contended were members of Westhell. Doc. #135 at 167-68; Doc. #138 at 28-39. One of Stanley's longtime acquaintances (Brandyn Farmer) similarly testified to seeing Stanley in the area of Westland Street and in the company of Melkuan Scott during the years before the shooting of Keith Washington in July 2011. Doc. #138 at 167-68.

         Melkuan Scott lived on 27 Eastford Street in the heart of the Westhell zone. Doc. #135 at 135-36. In July 2008-approximately three years prior to the killing of Keith Washington-law enforcement received a tip about a cache of weapons in the woods behind Scott's house and near a garage bearing graffiti that read “Wes-Hell.” When the agents went to investigate, they observed Matthews making his way through the woods and they watched as he deposited a gun in a duffel bag, which they subsequently seized along with another bag and found an assault weapon, seven handguns, and ammunition. Doc. #135 at 137-45, 161-66; Govt. Exs. 3F-3L.

         The Shooting at 36 Vine Street

         The jury heard about two shooting incidents on the night of July 15, 2011. The first occurred shortly before 7:00 p.m., when Hartford police responded to a 911 “shots fired” call outside 36 Vine Street in the North End of Hartford. Doc. #135 at 181; Doc. #136 at 25, 219. The responding officers saw bullet holes in the windshield of a Mercedes car, bullet fragments inside the car, and a shell casing on the street, but they were unable to identify anyone on the scene who was responsible for the shooting. Doc. #136 at 27-34.

         The Shooting and Killing of Keith Washington at 67 Oakland Terrace

         At around 9:30 p.m. on the same evening of July 15, 2011, Hartford police responded to a 911 call at 67 Oakland Terrace where they found Keith Washington lying face-down on the steps of the porch with a gunshot wound to his head. Doc. #135 at 220-22; Doc. #136 at 35-36. Forensic investigation concluded that at least three to four shots had been fired from the street area toward the front porch area of 67 Oakland Terrace. Doc. #136 at 174-75. Washington died two days later in the hospital. Doc. #137 at 205, 221.

         The focus of the Government's evidence at trial was to show that it was Stanley who killed Washington as well as his gang-related reason for doing so. To prove its case, the Government introduced four categories of evidence. First, it called witnesses who claimed to have seen Stanley do the shooting. Second, it called witnesses who claimed that Stanley made incriminating statements to them. Third, it introduced evidence about the car-a black Honda Accord-that it alleged Stanley used. Lastly, the Government introduced evidence about Stanley's cellphone records to show that he was in communication within minutes of the shootings with a fellow Westhell member as well as to show his approximate location at the time of both shootings. These four categories of evidence are reviewed below.

         Testimony of Eyewitnesses to the Shooting at 67 Oakland Terrace

         The Government called three witnesses-Tyquan Lucien, Willie Brown, and Al-Malik Sherrod-all of whom testified that they saw Stanley fire the shots at 67 Oakland Terrace. The first of these witnesses was Tyquan Lucien, a longtime member of the Ave gang with a history of vicious assaults and shootings. Lucien testified that, on the evening of July 15, 2011, he was playing basketball with other Ave members at Keney Park when he received a call from another Ave member, and then everyone left the park to go to Oakland Terrace. Doc. #136 at 219-28. Although Lucien was not permitted to testify what the caller had told him, his testimony about receiving the telephone call and leaving the park was consistent with the Government's contention that the shooting incident at Vine Street prompted concern on Lucien's part that he would be the subject of retaliation.

         Lucien and the others made their way to an Ave member's house where Lucien met Keith Washington. Id. at 227. Lucien and Washington then went to 67 Oakland Terrace and a neighboring house. Id. at 227-29. The house at 67 Oakland Terrace was a gathering place for the Ave. Doc. #135 at 59-60, 107-08; Doc. #137 at 153. Members of the Ave regularly met there to sell drugs, and weapons were stored in the yard. Doc. #136 at 215-18; Doc. #138 at 163-65; Doc. #139 at 26; Doc. #140 at 23.

         Lucien testified that he went inside to get marijuana before returning to the porch of 67 Oakland Terrace where Washington was then sitting on the steps. Doc. #136 at 228-29. At that point, according to Lucien, “shots started ringing.” Doc. #136 at 229. Lucien turned to look toward the street and saw that it was Stanley (a/k/a “Wigg”) who had a gun in a black, two-door Honda Accord and was firing toward him. Id. at 232-33, 235; Doc. #137 at 20, 184. Lucien had seen that car before and had seen Stanley with the car. Doc. #137 at 22.

         Lucien escaped back into the house while the car drove away. Doc. #136 at 230-33; Doc. #137 at 20-21. He left the area before the police arrived, and he would not implicate Stanley in the shooting until several years later when he began cooperating with the Government in 2015 upon being confronted with a new criminal charge that would have mandated he spend the rest of his life in prison. Doc. #137 at 27-28. Like several of the Government's trial witnesses, Lucien was subject to extensive cross-examination about his motives for testifying and his lengthy criminal history.[2]

         A second eyewitness to the shooting was Willie Brown who testified that he was on the front porch of his home at 54 Oakland Terrace-two doors down and across the street from 67 Oakland Terrace. Doc. #140 at 26-27. Brown was a self-described “gang banger, ” who had gone to elementary school and previously served prison time with Stanley. Id. at 27, 38-39. Brown testified that on the night of July 15, 2011, he saw a black, two-door Honda pull up to a stop in front of the house at 67 Oakland Terrace, and that he saw a gun come out of the passenger side window and fire about four shots. Doc. #140 at 29-31, 161. As the car then drove off and past Brown's house, Brown testified that he was able to see through the open window of the car that it was Stanley in the passenger seat inside the car. Doc. #140 at 30-33, 38-40, 161.

         Brown's testimony that Stanley was one of two people in the car was inconsistent with Lucien's testimony that Stanley was alone in the car. Doc. #136 at 235. Like Lucien, Brown did not come forward to tell the police what he saw until much later, and he was subject to extensive cross-examination about his criminal history, as well as his extensive use of PCP and mental health problems.[3]

         The third eyewitness to the shooting was Al-Malik Sherrod, who testified that on the night of July 15, 2011, he was sitting on the rail of the front porch of his home at 22 Oakland Terrace, and he saw well down the street where people were gathered on the porch at 67 Oakland Terrace. Doc. #140 at 209-11, 216. Sherrod testified that he saw a two-door black coupe drive down Oakland Terrace, that he saw the driver get out of the car, and that he saw the driver shoot four or five times across the hood of the car toward the house 67 Oakland Terrace. Id. at 214-18. The car left the scene and drove past Sherrod who saw that it was Stanley driving the car. Id. at 218-22; Doc. #141 at 25-26.

         Sherrod's testimony that he saw the shooter emerge from the car and shoot across its hood was inconsistent with the testimony of both Lucien and Brown that the shooter remained inside the car. Sherrod also differed from Brown in that he testified that Stanley was driving the car and that the car's window was closed. Doc. #141 at 98. Like Lucien and Brown, Sherrod did not come forward to tell the police what he saw until many months after the shooting, and he was subject to extensive cross-examination about his motives for testifying and his criminal history.[4]

         Stanley's ...


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