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United States v. Cook

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 6, 2019

UNITED STATES
v.
HAROLD COOK, GERUND MICKENS, and TERRELL HUNTER

          RULING ON MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENTS OF ACQUITTAL AND/OR FOR A NEW TRIAL

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge

         Harold Cook (“Oink”), Gerund Mickens (“Breeze”), and Terrell Hunter (“Rell”) were charged with the kidnapping of Charles Teasley (“Man”), resulting in Teasley's death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (count one); the firearm-related murder of Teasley in furtherance of kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(j)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (count two); and the firearm-related murder of Teasley in furtherance of Hobbs Act Robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(j)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (count three).[1] See Indictment, Doc. No. 1. The jury found Cook, Mickens, and Hunter guilty on all three counts. See Verdict, Doc. No. 320. Subsequently, count two was dismissed on consent. See Mot. to Dism., Doc. No. 462; Order, Doc. No. 464. Cook, Mickens, and Hunter now seek judgments of acquittal on counts one and three or, in the alternative, a new trial. See Hunter Mot. for J. of Acquittal or New Trial (“Hunter Mot.”), Doc. No. 330; Cook Mot. for J. of Acquittal or New Trial (“Cook Mot.”), Doc. No. 332; Mickens Mot. for J. of Acquittal or New Trial (“Mickens Mot.”), Doc. No. 333. For the following reasons, the defendants' motions are denied.

         I. Background

         The following general factual evidence was alleged by the government and introduced at trial. Additional facts will be set out below. On the night of January 9, 2009, Teasley received a phone call from Lee, and the two set up a drug transaction where Teasley would buy cocaine from Lee. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 650-51. At around 9:00 p.m., Teasley took $1, 100 from his girlfriend Kim Brookens' purse and left the home he and Brookens shared in West Hartford. Id. at 651-54. Teasley left in his mother's car, an Acura TL, and was planning to bring his grandmother to work and meet Lee for the transaction. Id. at 654-55. Shortly after he left the house, Brookens received a call from Teasley, who asked her to bring his small safe-where he kept money and drugs-downstairs. Id. at 658-59. Brookens retrieved the safe and gave it to a man, not Teasley, standing at the front door, whom she described as a tall, thin, dark-skinned black man wearing all black and a black face mask. Id. at 660-64. While doing so, she saw the Acura TL parked on the street in front of her house. Id. at 667. Thereafter, Teasley did not pick up his grandmother from work, nor did he answer Brookens' multiple phone calls. Id. at 686-88.

         Brookens called Teasley's friends and relatives in search of him, and on January 10, 2009 reported Teasley missing to the West Hartford Police Department. Id. at 688-92. Teasley's body was found by his friend Desmond Wright two days later, on January 12, in the back seat of the Acura TL, parked on Colebrook Street in Hartford. See Tr. 8/7/18, Doc. No. 400 at 76, 104-05, 137-38. Teasley's hands were bound behind his back with zip ties and he had been shot multiple times in the head. See id. at 190-91, 206; Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 635; see also Gov. Ex. 2, 5K, 5U, 6B, 6I.

         In 2011, Ashanti, who was incarcerated for an unrelated crime, met with law enforcement and, as will be discussed more fully below, implicated himself, Cook, Mickens, Hunter, and Lee (among others) in Teasley's murder. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 773-74, 865. On March 30, 2017, Cook, Mickens, Hunter, Lee, and Ashanti were charged in a three-count indictment with Teasley's kidnapping robbery, and murder. See Indictment, Doc. No. 1. The government alleged in the indictment that Lee set up a drug deal with Teasley and when Teasley arrived at the specified location, he was ambushed by Cook, Mickens, Hunter, and Ashanti, who kidnapped Teasley by binding his hands and forcing him into the back of his car. Id. Cook, Mickens, Hunter, and Ashanti then assaulted Teasley, forced him to get the safe from Brookens, and murdered Teasley by shooting him in the head at close range. Id. As mentioned, Cook, Mickens, and Hunter were found guilty on all three counts and seek judgments of acquittal and/or a new trial.

         II. Motions for Judgment of Acquittal

         A. Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, “the court on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29. “A defendant seeking to overturn a conviction on the ground that the evidence was insufficient bears a heavy burden.” United States v. Best, 219 F.3d 192, 200 (2d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 121 S.Ct. 1733 (2001). The reviewing court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and must reject the sufficiency challenge if it concludes that “any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979) (emphasis in original); see also United States v. Payton, 159 F.3d 49, 56 (2d Cir. 1998) (“The ultimate question is not whether [the court believes] the evidence adduced at trial established defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but whether any rational trier of fact could so find”) (emphasis in original). A reviewing court must consider the evidence as a whole, not in isolation. Best, 219 F.3d at 200; see also United States v. Memoli, 2015 WL 1525864, at *2 (D. Conn. Apr. 2, 2015) (“In order to prevail on a Rule 29 Motion, Defendant must establish that the totality of the evidence is insufficient to convict him-it is irrelevant that one piece of evidence, standing alone, would not have been enough.”) (emphasis in original). The “pieces of evidence must be viewed ‘not in isolation, but in conjunction.'” Memoli, 2015 WL 1525864, at *2 (quoting United States v. Casamento, 887 F.2d 1141, 1156 (2d Cir. 1989)).

         Further, the court must defer to the jury's determination of the weight of the evidence, credibility of witnesses, and competing inferences that can be drawn from the evidence. Best, 219 F.3d at 200. The district court must “assum[e] that the jury resolved all questions of witness credibility and competing inferences in favor of the prosecution.” United States v. Abu-Jihaad, 630 F.3d 102, 134 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal citations omitted); see also United States v. Morrison, 153 F.3d 34, 49 (2d Cir. 1998) (“We defer to the jury's determination of the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses, and to the jury's choice of competing inferences that can be drawn from the evidence.”). The jury is “exclusively responsible” for determinations of witness credibility, United States v. Strauss, 999 F.2d 692, 696 (2d Cir. 1993), and the court must be “careful to avoid usurping the role of the jury since Rule 29 does not provide the trial court with an opportunity to substitute its determination of . . . the weight of the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn for that of the jury.” United States v. Cassese, 428 F.3d 92, 98 (2d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court should defer to the jury's credibility assessments and intrude upon that function only where “exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated” such as when “testimony is patently incredible or defies physical realities.” United States v. Sanchez, 969 F.2d 1409, 1413 (2d Cir. 1992).

         B. Discussion

         The defendants argue[2] that they are entitled to judgments of acquittal on both counts of conviction because the government's case relied almost exclusively on Ashanti's testimony, which was incredible on its face and defied physical realities. See Mem. in Supp. Hunter Mot., Doc. No. 441; Mem. in Supp. Cook Mot., Doc. No. 445; Mem. in Supp. Mickens Mot., Doc. No. 290. With respect to count three specifically, the defendants argue further that the government failed to prove the interstate nexus of Hobbs Act Robbery. Mem. in Supp. Mickens Mot., Doc. No. 290 at 3. For the following reasons, the defendants' motions for judgment of acquittal are denied.

         1. Ashanti's Testimony

         The Second Circuit has held that “the testimony of a single accomplice witness is sufficient to sustain a conviction, provided it is not incredible on its face … or does not def[y] physical realities.” United States v. Truman, 688 F.3d 129, 139 (2d Cir. 2012). A motion for judgment of acquittal “does not provide the trial court with an opportunity to substitute its own determination of … the weight of the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn for that of the jury.” United States v. Guadagna, 183 F.3d 122, 129 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). “It is the province of the jury and not of the court to determine whether a witness who may have been inaccurate, contradictory, and even untruthful in some respects was nonetheless entirely credible in the essentials of his testimony.” United States v. O'Connor, 650 F.3d 839, 855 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). Further, a witness' credibility should be challenged in “cross-examination and in subsequent argument to the jury … not in a motion for a judgment of acquittal.” Truman, 688 F.3d at 139-40 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         At trial, Ashanti testified as follows. He met Mickens in 1997 and the two became close friends in 2006. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 767. Through Mickens, Ashanti became friends with Cook, Mickens' brother. Id. at 767. Ashanti, Mickens, Cook, Hunter, and a man named Cinque Sutherland frequently hung out together at the “gambling house” on Enfield Street in the north end of Hartford. Id. at 768-69. That group would all “commit[] crimes together” at the direction of Cook. Id. at 769. Cook called Ashanti on the night of January 9, 2009 and told Ashanti to “come to the block, ” Enfield Street, so Cook, Ashanti, Mickens, and Hunter could commit a robbery of Troy Hicks. Id. at 774-76, 780. When Ashanti arrived, Cook had a handgun, though Ashanti did not know what kind, and Hunter made a call to acquire more guns for the rest of the group. Id. at 777-79. Ashanti drove the four of them to Oakland Terrace in Hartford and they retrieved three more handguns from someone named “Fats.” Id. at 778-80. Ashanti was given a 9-millimeter, Mickens a Desert Eagle, and Hunter a .380 caliber. Id. at 828. After Cook and Hunter received phone calls, the nature of which Ashanti did not know, the group called off the robbery of Hicks. Id. at 784.

         After the Hicks robbery was abandoned, Cook received a call and told Ashanti that they “‘got another one'” and that Teasley had sold his BMW, had $40, 000, and was looking to buy drugs. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 785-86. At Cook's direction, Ashanti pulled over on a side street and then Lee pulled up in his car. Id. at 786-87. Cook got out of Ashanti's car to talk to Lee and when Cook returned he told Ashanti to drive to Lee's house. Id. at 788-89. When they arrived at Lee's house, Lee was on the porch of the house, but he left before Teasley arrived. Id. at 790, 800. Cook, Ashanti, Mickens, and Hunter went into the driveway to wait for Teasley, Ashanti and Mickens in the back, and Cook and Hunter in the front. Id. at 797. Teasley then walked up the driveway, Cook and Hunter grabbed him, and Teasley put his hands up and threw down “a knot” of money, which was a “small amount.” Id. at 797, 803. At that point, one of the three men, Ashanti did not know who, zip tied Teasley's hands behind his back. Id. at 797, 800. Cook, Ashanti, Mickens, and Hunter then walked Teasley across the street and the five men got into the Acura TL, Teasley's car. Id. at 801.

         After driving the car for a few minutes, Cook pulled over and asked Teasley for more money. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 802-03. When Teasley said he did not have any more, Cook pulled out a pocket knife and “started just poking [Teasley] in the top of his head.” Id. at 804. Teasley continued to tell Cook that he did not have any more money than what he gave them in the driveway and Mickens “took the clip out of his gun and pulled it back so a bullet could fall out [and] … started smacking [Teasley] in his head, asking him where the money was.” Id. at 805-06. Cook then drove Teasley's car back to the area of Lee's house, and Ashanti and Mickens got out of Teasley's car and got into Ashanti's car. Id. at 808. Ashanti followed Cook, who was still driving Teasley's car, to West Hartford. Id. at 809. Cook pulled Teasley's car over and walked back to Ashanti's car where he told them that Teasley had $25, 000 that Mickens needed to go get it. Id. at 809-11. Mickens then got out of Ashanti's car, walked up to a house where he participated in “a little handoff” at the door, and then got into the car Cook was driving. Id. at 812.

         Cook then drove off in Teasley's car and Ashanti, now alone in his car, followed. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 812-13. While Ashanti was following the car Cook was driving, he saw two flashes that he believed to be gunshots and then Cook pulled Teasley's car onto Colebrook Street. Id. at 814. When Ashanti pulled on the street, Cook, who was carrying a small safe, Mickens, and Hunter were already walking away from Teasley's car. Id. at 815-16. The three men got into Ashanti's car and Ashanti drove away without seeing inside Teasley's car. Id. at 815-16. Ashanti drove Hunter to his car and then followed Hunter to a house on Mahl Avenue in Hartford and parked in the driveway next to Hunter. Id. at 816-18. Ashanti tried to leave his car but Cook “put his hand on [Ashanti's] door to stop [him] from getting out.” Id. at 818. Although he was inside the car, Ashanti heard Hunter say the following to Cook: “‘You see how Home, he was bluffing after you hit him. . . . You see how Home is leaning over there bluffing so I hit him too. . . . At first he was bluffing after you hit him. Then I hit him, then I hit him because he was acting like he was bluffing. That's when he leaned over.'” Id. at 818-19. Ashanti understood Hunter to mean that Hunter and Cook both shot Teasley. Id. at 819. Cook told Ashanti there was nothing in the safe and Ashanti gave Cook his gun and left. Id. at 820, 827-29. Ashanti learned the next day that Teasley had been killed. Id. at 831.

         In December 2010, Ashanti was arrested in Massachusetts for bank robbery.[3] Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 832-34, 876. While he was being held at the police station, Ashanti asked to meet with Hartford police and the FBI because he had information about the Teasley murder. Id. at 836-37. Ashanti met with law enforcement on January 7, 2011 and implicated himself, Cook, Mickens, Hunter, and Lee in Teasley's murder. See id. at 856-59, 865-71; see also Gov. Ex. 59 (identifying Cook); Gov. Ex. 60 (Ashanti identifying Hunter); Gov. Ex. 61 (Ashanti identifying Lee); and Gov. Ex. 62 (Ashanti identifying Mickens). Ashanti also told law enforcement that Sutherland was involved in the murder. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 788, 839, 865; Gov. Ex. 63 (Ashanti identifying Sutherland). He told police that Sutherland was with Lee when Lee came to meet Cook and, further, implicated Sutherland as one of the shooters. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 788, 840.

         Ashanti met with the FBI on January 21, 2011. Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 978-79. Thereafter, he was appointed lawyers and met with the government on March 17, 2011 and signed a proffer agreement. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 880; Gov. Ex. 55; Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 979-81. At that time, he was still implicating Sutherland as part of the murder. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 880; Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 911. The proffer agreement provided that the government could void the agreement if Ashanti intentionally provided false information. Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 912; Gov. Ex. 55. Prompted by that language, and his attorneys' insistence that he be truthful, Ashanti met with the government again on April 25, 2011 and recanted his statements that Sutherland was involved in Teasley's murder. Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 913-15; 979-81, 997, 1004. He did not recant any statements about Cook, Mickens, Hunter, or Lee. Id. at 915. “None of” Ashanti's statements about Sutherland's involvement was true, and he implicated Sutherland in the murder because the two had committed crimes together in the past and Ashanti felt that Sutherland was a threat to Ashanti's family if he was not incarcerated. Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 788, 839-41; Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 915-16.

         Ashanti had little interaction with law enforcement regarding his cooperation until August 2015 when he was moved to Wyatt Detention Facility and met with the government. Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 1016-18, 1020-21. Ashanti met with the government again on October 29, 2015 and June 7, 2016. Id. at 1022-23. Ashanti was indicted in March 2017 along with Cook, Mickens, Hunter, and Lee. Id. at 1024; see Indictment, Doc. No. 1. Ashanti met again with the government on April 13, 2018, February 5, 2018, and May 15, 2018. Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 1025. On July 16, 2018, Ashanti signed a cooperation agreement and plea agreement with the government and pled guilty to the three counts. Gov. Ex. 54, 56; Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 924-28, 1025.

         The defendants strenuously cross-examined Ashanti about his credibility and general truthfulness. More specifically, defense counsel highlighted the many discrepancies between Ashanti's testimony at trial and various statements he made to law enforcement about the Teasley murder, beyond falsely implicating Sutherland. See Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 1033 (Ashanti testified that on the night of the murder he was wearing a burgundy coat with white, green, and orange lettering, but he told law enforcement in 2015 that he was wearing a “light-colored jacket” that night); id. at 1034 (Ashanti testified that when he arrived at Enfield Street, Cook already had a gun, but in 2011 he told law enforcement it was Hunter who already had a gun); id. at 1034-36 (Ashanti testified Hunter got three guns for them to use, but in 2011 and 2015 he said Hunter only got two); id. at 1036-37 (Ashanti testified that he drove everyone to Lee's house, but in 2011 he said Hunter was driving); id. at 1040-41 (Ashanti testified that Hunter gave everyone gloves and masks, but in 2015 he said Mickens had the masks and Cook had the gloves); id. at 1041 (Ashanti testified that all the gloves were black, but in 2011 he said that Hunter had burgundy gloves); id. at 1041-42 (Ashanti testified that he did not know where Lee went when he and the others arrived at the house that night, but in 2015 he said Lee walked away from the house and in 2018 he said Lee walked into the house); id. at 1044-45 (Ashanti testified Cook and Hunter grabbed Teasley when he arrived, but in 2011 he said it was Cook and Mickens); id. at 1045-46 (Ashanti testified that he could not remember if Teasley was taken to the ground when he arrived, but in 2011 he said Cook pushed Teasley down, and in 2015 he said all four of them took Teasley to the ground); id. at 1071-72 (Ashanti testified he did not know who put the zip ties on Teasley, but said in 2011 that it was Hunter and Mickens); id. at 1049-50 (Ashanti told law enforcement in 2011 that Cook and Mickens “tortured” Teasley, including carving Teasley's eye out, but he did not testify to that); id. at 1053-45 (Ashanti testified that he did not see into Teasley's car after it was abandoned, but said in 2011 that Teasley was left in a fetal position); id. at 1055-56 (Ashanti testified that Hunter couldn't bury the guns because the ground was too cold, but in 2011 and 2015 he said that Hunter had buried the guns); see also Tr. 3/14/18, Doc. No. 404 at 1339-41 (Special Agent William Aldenberg testifying about the inconsistencies in Ashanti's statements to law enforcement).

         In an effort to discount Ashanti's testimony even further, defense counsel elicited testimony from Ashanti about other times he had been untruthful. Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 940-41 (Ashanti testifying that in 2005 he falsely identified two women as his sisters so that they could visit him while he was incarcerated); id. at 942-43, 1018-20 (Ashanti testifying that at various times throughout his interaction with the criminal justice system, he gave inconsistent statements regarding how far he went in school before dropping out, his drug and alcohol use, his gang affiliation, his medication usage, and his suicide attempts); id. at 949-51, 957-58 (Ashanti testifying that he had used different names and dates of birth over the years, including giving a false name and date of birth to a police officer when he was pulled over and arrested in 2007).

         Notably, Ashanti admitted that he “told a lot of lies” throughout his life to help himself when he was in trouble. Id. at 1070. Further, defense counsel elicited testimony about Ashanti's prior convictions including a ten-year prison sentence for a drive-by shooting, various assaults of other inmates while incarcerated, narcotics charges, violations of probation, and the Massachusetts bank robberies for which he was incarcerated at the time of his testimony. Id. at 944-53, 963-64, 969-71, 973-74, 1010. Ashanti also testified about his work as a paid informant for the Hartford police beginning in 2008. Id. at 960-69, 1060-66.

         Many of the key aspects of Ashanti's testimony, with which the defendants take issue, were corroborated through other evidence, however. For instance, the ballistics examiner, James Stephenson, testified that the bullets recovered from the scene were fired from a .380 caliber handgun, which was consistent with Ashanti's testimony that Hunter was one of the shooters. Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 1153-54. Further, the medical examiner, Frank Evangelista, testified that his examination of Teasley's body revealed that there was soot on his skin but not stippling, which suggests that he was shot from at most a foot away, which is consistent with Ashanti's testimony that Teasley was shot while in the car. Tr. 8/8/18, Doc. No. 401 at 119. Ashanti testified that Cook and Mickens “poked” and hit Teasley in the head while in his car, though there no stab wounds or contusions were found on Teasley's head. Id. at 64-65, 132. Dr. Evangelista testified, though, that it was “possible” that Teasley was hit in the face before being shot. Id. at 144. Further, he testified that he was unsure what type of bruising would occur if Teasley was wearing clothing where he was hit. Id. at 144-45. When Teasley's body was found, his hood was at least partially covering his head. See Gov. Ex. 5W (showing the position of Teasley's sweatshirt); Tr. 8/7/18, Doc. No. 400 at 199 (Detective Baez testifying that the hood was in the same position in exhibit 5W as it was when Teasley's body was found).

         Further, Ashanti testified that Mickens sometimes spoke with a Jamaican accent to hide his voice, which is consistent with his testimony that Mickens retrieved the safe from Brookens and consistent with Brookens' testimony that the person who came to the door to retrieve the safe spoke with a Jamaican accent.[4] Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 720; Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 923-24. Ashanti, Hunter, and Mickens could not be eliminated as contributors to DNA found at the scene, which is consistent with Ashanti's testimony that they were there that night. Tr. 8/8/18, Doc. No. 401 at 225, 238-39, 243-44. The government also introduced cell phone evidence that corroborated Ashanti's version of events. See Gov. Ex. 83 (showing the timing of calls made to and from Cook, Lee, and Teasley); Gov. Ex. 91 (presentation showing the general route of the phones during cell activity based on the towers used). Ashanti also testified that “[o]nce [he] admitted to [Sutherland] not being there, [he] told [law enforcement] exactly what happened.” Tr. 8/13/18, Doc. No. 403 at 1073. Ashanti testified that he didn't remember “every specific detail” about the night of January 9, 2009, but that he remembered “a lot” of what happened. Id. at 1075.

         Accordingly, Ashanti's testimony was not “incredible on its face” and did not “def[y] physical realities.” Truman, 688 F.3d at 139. Further, Ashanti's criminal background, the inconsistencies in his testimony, and his admitted lying at some points do not render his testimony incredible as a matter of law, but are “factors relevant to the weigh the jury should accord to the evidence.” United States v. Coté, 544 F.3d 88, 100 (2d Cir. 2008). The jury was entitled to take all of Ashanti's testimony into consideration when determining whether to find him credible. It is the jury's role, and not mine, to determine a witness' credibility. The jury was entitled to determine whether it found Ashanti's testimony credible and, in so finding, was entitled to rely on it to find the defendants guilty. O'Connor, 650 F.3d at 855. The defendants' motions for judgment of acquittal on the basis of Ashanti's testimony are denied.

         2. Hobbs Act Robbery

         The defendants were found guilty in count three of the firearm-related murder of Teasley in the course of committing Hobbs Act Robbery pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1915, which provides, in relevant part, that a person commits Hobbs Act Robbery when he:

in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery … or attempts or conspires so to do, or commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to [commit robbery].

18 U.S.C. § 1915(a); see also Indictment, Doc. No. 1. “Robbery” is defined as “the unlawful taking or obtaining of personal property from the person or in the presence of another, against his will, by means of actual or threatened force[.]” 18 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). The defendants argue that the government failed to prove the interstate nexus element of Hobbs Act Robbery and, therefore, they are entitled to judgments of acquittal on count three. The government argues that it established that the defendants targeted Teasley for his drugs and/or drug proceeds and, therefore, the interstate nexus requirement was satisfied.

         The Hobbs Act “reaches any obstruction, delay, or other effect on commerce, even if small, and the Act's definition of commerce encompasses ‘all … commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction.'” Taylor v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2074, 2079 (2016) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(3)). “[T]o satisfy the Act's commerce element, it is enough that a defendant knowingly stole or attempted to steal drugs or drug proceeds” because “the market for illegal drugs is commerce of which the United States has jurisdiction.” Id. at 2081 (internal quotation marks omitted). “In order to obtain a conviction under the Hobbs Act for the robbery or attempted robbery of a drug dealer, the Government need not show that the drugs that a defendant stole or attempted to steal either traveled or were destined for transport across state lines.” Id. The Hobbs Act is “unmistakably broad” and must be read as such. Id. at 2079; see also United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 373 (1978) (the interstate element of the Hobbs Act “do[es] not lend [itself] to restrictive interpretation”); Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212, 215 (1960) (the Hobbs Act “speaks in broad language”).

         There was evidence in the record that Teasley was a drug dealer and committed robberies. See Tr. 8/9/18, Doc. No. 402 at 634-35 (Brookens testifying that Teasley dealt mostly crack cocaine); id. at 634-35, 646-47 (Brookens testifying that a few months before he was killed, Teasley and Desmond Wright robbed other drug dealers, to whom everyone referred as “the Jamaicans, ” of a substantial amount-three duffel bags full-of marijuana, and roughly $100, 000). Importantly, the uncontroverted evidence was that Teasley was going to meet Lee to participate in a drug transaction and brought with him at least $1, 100 which he was going to use to purchase drugs. Before the transaction took place, however, Teasley was ambushed by the defendants, who took the $1, 100. That money was intended to be drug proceeds and, but for the defendants' interruption of the drug deal, would have been. Simply put, the defendants robbed a known drug dealer of money that they knew was intended to be used for purchasing drugs. In light of the broad nature of the Hobbs Act, see Taylor, 136 S.Ct. at 2079, the robbery of money that the defendants knew was intended to become drug proceeds, but for their interruption of the drug transaction, satisfies the interstate commerce requirement. Cf., United States v. Lee, 834 F.3d 145, 155 (2d Cir. 2016) (holding that it is “irrelevant” to the interstate nexus that no actual drug proceeds were recovered). The jury was entitled to find, then, that the defendants knowingly stole, or attempted to steal, drugs or drug proceeds from Teasley.[5]

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, with all logical inferences drawn in its favor, the defendants did not meet their heavy burden of proving that the government failed to establish the interstate commerce element of count three. Best, 219 F.3d at 200. I must not disturb a jury's “determination of the weight of the evidence … and competing inferences that can be drawn from the evidence.” Id. From the evidence presented, the jury was entitled to infer that the defendants were knowingly targeting Teasley's drugs and/or drug proceeds as part of the robbery. Accordingly, the defendants' motions for judgment of acquittal on count three are denied.

         III. Motions for a New Trial

         A. Standard

         “Upon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33. Rule 33 gives the trial court “broad discretion . . . to set aside a jury verdict and order a new trial to avert a perceived miscarriage of justice.” Sanchez, 969 F.2d at 1413. The test for determining if a new trial should be ordered remains whether “it would be a manifest injustice to let the guilty verdict stand.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). In other words, in order to grant a new trial under Rule 33, the court must answer “no” to the following question: “Am I satisfied that competent, satisfactory and sufficient evidence in this record supports the jury's finding that this defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?” Id. The Second Circuit has cautioned that “motions for a new trial are disfavored in this Circuit.” United States v. Gambino, 59 F.3d 353, 364 (2d Cir. 1995).

         B. Discussion

         Each of the three defendants also argue that he is entitled to a new trial for multiple reasons: (1) the verdict was against the great weight of the evidence; (2) the government made improper comments during its case-in-chief and its closing; (3) the government failed to preserve notes of an April 2011 interview of Ashanti, which constituted violations of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972), and entitled them to an adverse inference instruction; (4) Mickens' closing argument was improperly limited; and (5) a joint trial subjected them to an unfair trial. See generally Mem. in Supp. Cook Mot., Doc. No. 445; Mem. in Supp. Mickens Mot., Doc. No. 444; Mem. in Supp. Hunter Mot., Doc. No. 442.

         1. Against the Weight of the Evidence

         The defendants argue first that the jury's verdict was against the great weight of the evidence. Mem. in Supp. Cook Mot., Doc. No. 445 at 32; Mem. in Supp. Mickens Mot., Doc. No. 444 at 2; Mem. in Supp. Hunter Mot., Doc. No. 442 at 19. The defendants reassert here their argument that Ashanti's testimony was incredible and defied physical realities, and other evidence contradicted his testimony. See id. As discussed with respect to the defendants' Rule 29 motions, Ashanti's testimony was not incredible as a matter of law and the jury's seeming reliance on that testimony in convicting the defendants was not a miscarriage of justice. Therefore, the defendants are not entitled to a new trial on that basis.

         2. Government's Improper Comments

         The defendants argue next that the government made improper comments during its casein-chief and during its closing argument which precluded the defendants from receiving a fair trial. See Mem. in Supp. Cook Mot., Doc. No. 445 at 40-46; Mem. in Supp. Mickens Mot., Doc. No. 444 at 8-9; Mem. in Supp. Hunter Mot., Doc. No. 442 at 8-15. Defendants “face a heavy burden” when seeking a new trial on the basis that government remarks amounted to prosecutorial misconduct. United States v. Locascio, 6 F.3d 924, 945 (2d Cir. 1993). “[T]he misconduct alleged must be so severe and significant as to result in the denial of their right to a fair trial.” Id.; see also United States v. Coplan, 703 F.3d 46, 86 (2d Cir. 2012). Further, in evaluating a claim of prosecutorial misconduct, courts consider: “(1) the severity of the alleged misconduct; (2) the curative measures taken; (3) the likelihood of conviction absent any misconduct.” Locascio, 6 F.3d at 945-46.

         a. Case-in-Chief

         The defendants first take issue with various evidence elicited during the government's case-in-chief including testimony in which the defendants argue Special Agent Ryan James was bolstering the government's theory of the case and vouching for Ashanti's credibility. Mem. in Supp. Hunter Mot., Doc. No. 442 at 9-12. Further, the defendants argue that the government elicited “other act” evidence, under Rule 404(b), in violation of a pretrial ruling. Id. at 15.

         i. Agent ...


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