United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENTS OF ACQUITTAL AND/OR
FOR A NEW TRIAL
R. Underhill United States District Judge
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). 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.
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.
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.
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.
Motions for Judgment of Acquittal
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)).
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).
defendants argue 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
December 2010, Ashanti was arrested in Massachusetts for bank
robbery. 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.
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.
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,
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
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).
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.
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
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. 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.
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.
Hobbs Act Robbery
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
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.
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”).
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.
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.
Motions for a New Trial
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).
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.
Against the Weight of the Evidence
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.
Government's Improper Comments
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.
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.