Defense attorneys file deadline extension motions for separate trials in federal gang case

James Whitlow, Danville Register & Bee – 12/31/2018

Weighed down with months of discovery material the federal government has produced, defense attorneys in the case against accused members of Danville’s Rollin 60s Crips and MILLA Bloods street gangs filed motions to extend the deadline for severing their clients from the cases, citing fears of prejudicing a jury and time limitations, according to court documents.

Severing is legal shorthand for removing a codefendant from a case with multiple defendants, allowing them a separate legal proceeding. Attorneys have until Jan. 11 to file motions to sever.

Professor of law at University of Indiana Bloomington Jody Madeira said severing also is a sound maneuver for defense attorneys. It opens up new lines of argument for defense counsel, and defendants can be insulated from potentially damning evidence presented to prove a codefendant’s guilt.

“It is in the defendant’s best interest to sever because, in a criminal trial, it is every man for himself,” she said. “So what evidence comes in as to somebody else might hurt you.”

The attorneys argued the deadline approaches too quickly for them to study a staggering amount of potential evidence in the case, according to a motion filed in federal court. All told, according to the government’s response to the motion, defense attorneys have 565.3 gigabytes of evidence to sift through — much of it video, audio and images.

“Setting aside 30 hours per week solely for viewing video files, it would take almost eight months to simply view the files,” the motion states.

The motion, filed by Michael T. Hemenway, representing Kanas Lamont’e Trent, claims that even if both Trent’s defense lawyers worked 24-hours a day for more than a month, they would barely have enough time to view the government’s most recent production of evidence — 248 gigabytes — let alone all the discovery. That, they said, would breach Trent’s right to a fair trial.

The sweeping racketeering cases were filed in June in connection to Christopher Lamot Motley’s shooting death in August 2016. They also charge multiple defendants with counts related to other attempted homicides and drugs. There are 20 defendants across both cases.

Multiple defense attorneys have joined in the motions filed 13 days after Judge Michael F. Urbanski set a schedule for both the cases on Dec. 6.

Standing trial as a group, Virginia Beach attorney Steven Emmert said, can hurt an individual defendant’s chances of being acquitted. Juries may mistakenly find defendants guilty by association. Defendants charged with lesser crimes can be cast in a worse light if paired with more serious codefendants.

“Usually a defendant fears being painted with a broad brush that applies to a mass of defendants,” Emmert said. “The evidence against an individual defendant might actually be very small.”

The cases against the accused gang members cover a wide range of charges, ranging from first-degree and attempted murder to being an accessory to the crime, according to court documents.

Severing gives defense attorneys more ways out of a guilty conviction. Arguing that a defendant was manipulated or coerced into a crime, for instance, is a sound argument in some cases, Madeira said. But it only works if the cases are separate.

“You cannot really say your client is being manipulated by another person if that person is sitting at the defense table with you,” she said. “Each lawyer can do their best job of representing their client if they sever.”

The court will ultimately decide which cases are severed. Separating the cases could prolong the proceedings, Madeira said. But that cannot be helped.

“It is not an expeditious move, but you cannot prevent separation without violating defendants’ right to due process,” she said. “It affects their ability to prepare the most effective case.”

The trial for the Rollin 60s suspects is set for Oct. 7 and the MILLAs defendants is scheduled on Jan. 13, 2020.