United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL AND/OR FOR
A NEW TRIAL (DOC. NOS. 383, 386)
R. UNDERHILL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Douglas Lee (“Fly”) was charged by Indictment
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. Lee was charged
alongside co-defendants Harold Cook (“Oink”),
Gerund Mickens (“Breeze”), Terrell Hunter
(“Rell”), and Jesus Ashanti
(“Black”). Id. All but Ashanti elected
to go to trial and Lee's trial was severed from that of
his co-defendants. See Order on Mot. to Sever, Doc.
No. 178 at 20-22.
went to trial in October 2018 and was found guilty on count
one, but acquitted on counts two and three. See
Verdict, Doc. No. 392. He filed an oral Motion for Judgment
of Acquittal on October 23, 2016 (doc. no. 383) and a written
Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and/or New Trial on October
26, 2018. See Mot. for Acquittal, Doc. No. 386. On
July 8, 2019, I ordered the government to show cause why
Lee's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal should not be
granted on the basis that the evidence failed to show that
Lee knew that Teasley would be kidnapped, as opposed
to robbed, which was necessary to convict him on
count one. Order to Show Cause, Doc. No. 457. The government
and Lee have both responded. See Lee Mem. in Supp.,
Doc. No. 463; Gov't Opp., Doc. No. 474; Lee Reply, Doc.
No. 478. For the following reasons, Lee's Motion for
Judgment of Acquittal is granted.
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.
10/16/18, Doc. No. 415 at 304, 307-08. 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 275, 305, 310. Teasley left in his
mother's car, an Acura TL, and was planning to bring his
grandmother to work, get something to eat, and meet Lee for
the transaction. Id. at 308-10. 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 311-12. 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 who spoke
with a West Indian accent. Id. at 315-20. While
doing so, she saw the Acura TL parked on the street in front
of her house. Id. at 317. Thereafter, Teasley did
not pick up his grandmother from work, nor did he answer
Brookens' multiple phone calls. Id. at 321, 326.
called Teasley's friends and relatives in search of him,
and on January 10, 2009 reported Teasley missing to the West
Hartford Police Department. Tr. 10/16/18, Doc. No. 415 at
333-36. 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. Tr.
10/15/18, Doc. No. 414 at 63, 111-12. Teasley's hands
were bound behind his back with zip ties and he had been shot
multiple times in the head. See Tr. 10/15/18, Doc.
No. 414 at 86, 93, 143, 236; see also Gov. Ex. 5K,
5U, 5W, 6B, 6I. In 2011, Ashanti, who was incarcerated for an
unrelated crime, met with law enforcement and implicated
himself, Cook, Mickens, Hunter, and Lee (among others) in
Teasley's murder. Tr. 10/16/18, Doc. No. 415 at 524-25,
March 30, 2017, Lee, Cook, Mickens, Hunter, 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. I granted Lee's Motion to Sever because of
the likelihood of prejudice that would arise if the
government introduced prior alleged kidnappings and robberies
in which Lee was not involved. See Order on Mot. to
Sever, Doc. No. 178 at 20-22. Further, Lee's degree of
culpability in the instant case was “markedly
different” from that of his co-defendants because the
government alleged only that Lee “set Teasley up by
arranging the drug transaction and providing the details to
the other defendants.” Id. at 22. The
government did not allege that Lee otherwise participated
when Teasley was kidnapped, robbed, and murdered.
Id. Accordingly, Lee was tried separately from his
co-defendants and, as mentioned, was found guilty on count
one only. He now moves for a 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).
addressed in my Order to Show Cause, the critical question
with respect to count one is whether there was sufficient
evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Lee had
knowledge that Teasley would be kidnapped, not merely robbed.
Order to Show Cause, Doc. No. 457 at 4. I conclude that the
evidence did not sufficiently show that Lee knew that Teasley
would be kidnapped and, therefore, Lee's Motion for
Judgment of Acquittal is granted.
Count One, Lee was charged with aiding and abetting Cook,
Ashanti, Mickens, and Hunter in kidnapping Teasley, which
resulted in Teasley's death. The federal kidnapping
statute provides, ...