Day 16: North Carolina Latin Kings on trial

The defense lawyer for the leader of the North Carolina Latin Kings dropped one potential witness after the US government raised concerns that her testimony would be tainted by conversations with the defendant, and a federal judge ordered another witness’ testimony stricken after recordings revealed that she had been in close contact with the defendant but gave the impression under cross-examination that she didn’t remember the conversations.

Michael Patrick, a court-appointed lawyer, said he does not plan to call Alana Cornell to testify after the government played a recording of a phone call from the Forsyth County Detention Center from Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell to his ex-wife. The recording showed that the two discussed previous testimony by a witness for the government on a matter that Alana Cornell’s own testimony would likely reference.

US District Court Judge James A. Beaty denied a motion by the government to sanction Jorge Cornell by barring testimony from the Rev. Nelson Johnson after Patrick told the judge that the witness’ testimony would not cover matters discussed in phone conversations between Cornell and Johnson about previous testimony.  

Cornell is on trial in Winston-Salem on federal racketeering charges, along with Russell Kilfoil, Randolph Kilfoil, Samuel Velasquez, Irvin Vasquez and Ernesto Wilson. 

The hearing on whether Alana Cornell and the Rev. Johnson should be allowed to testify was held throughout Wednesday morning outside of the presence of members of the jury. But the courtroom drama surrounding the testimony of Saralee Gallien, which the judged deemed to be lacking in credibility, overshadowed four other witnesses. Testimony from Guilford County School Board member Deena Hayes, YES! Weekly reporter Eric Ginsburg, NC A&T University professor Brian Sims and Guilford College professor Sherry Giles tended to present a flattering portrayal of Cornell, despite the prosecution’s efforts in some cases to make the witnesses look na├»ve. 

Luis Rosa, a former Latin King member and defendant who is cooperating with the government, had testified on the second day of the trial that he and others had burglarized Cornerstone Insurance after Cornell told them he knew someone who worked there and knew where they would be able to find some money. The next day, business owner Richard Needham testified that he had employed Alana Cornell at one time. 

In one conversation recorded during the trial and played by the government on Wednesday morning, Alana Cornell can be heard saying, “Listen, they’re gonna try to do conspiracy to burglary.” 

Jorge Cornell, in turn, tries to reassure his ex-wife. 

“He said you were a great worker,” he says. “Left on good terms. Started your own business under him. He said nothing but good things about you. He said good things about me.” 

“That’s so stupid,” Alana Cornell laments, apparently disputing the time period that Needham testified she left his employment. “I left that office in October ’06.” 

“There you go,” Jorge Cornell responds. “We can impeach his testimony.” 

Patrick cited the discussion of the Cornerstone burglary it's likely relevance in her testimony as part of his reason for opting to not call Alana Cornell to take the stand. 

Much of the conversation recorded between Jorge Cornell and Alana Cornell focuses on their annoyance with the government publishing Alana Cornell’s photograph and asking former Latin Kings to identify her. 

“I feel like that’s dangerous, putting you out there with the kids,” Cornell says. “It ties you up with me and everybody else that’s in jeopardy.” 

Before the hearing on the government’s motion got underway, prosecutor Leshia Lee-Dixon pointed out Daniel Stainkamp in the gallery, and the judge asked him to leave. Stainkamp has periodically attended the trial and taken notes on behalf of a support committee for the defendants. 

Later, a young man who Lee-Dixon at first mistakenly identified as “D” entered the courtroom, and the judge ordered him to leave. 

The first recording reveals that as the trial began, Cornell was outraged that Patricia Caffey, a Greensboro Police Department employee had been dropped from the witness list after she stated that AJ Blake, formerly a police officer, had told her that he shot Cornell. Cornell also expressed displeasure at his lawyer for not being able to compel Caffey to testify, at one point pledging to fire him. 

“They took this lady off the witness list so they don’t have to investigate,” Cornell fumes. “This is the way I got fucked.” 

Daniel Carson, a member of the support committee, tells Cornell that supporters are trying to figure out “how we can legally bring that person back into question.” 

Judge Beaty repeatedly question Lee-Dixon on the relevancy of the recordings, but gave her time to work with investigation task force officers to find particular segments. 

In another conversation, Johnson tells Cornell that he and other supporters had to leave the trial on the first day because of “the sequestration thing.” The recording was presented as evidence that Johnson talked to Cornell about testimony while fully aware that the judge had ordered potential witnesses to stay out of the courtroom. 

Then Cornell discusses testimony by former Latin King Anthony Vasquez. 

“The one good thing is the lawyers said there’s so many inconsistencies it’s clear he’s lying,” Cornell says. 

Johnson ends the conversation by telling Cornell he would share some information about the Greensboro Police Department with him and his lawyer the next morning. 

In the next phone call, Johnson tells Cornell that he has talked with “D,” whose full name is Daniel Carson. 

“He was really excited that their story was falling apart,” Johnson says. “It’s good to hear that things are going good. It’s bad that this had to happen, but it may reveal to people what the Greensboro Police Department is doing, and what the fed is doing to aid and abet all of this. I just hope the jury is tracking this so they can see through the lies.” 

Cornell indicates that at that time he was impressed by Patrick’s cross-examination of the witnesses. 

“Two of the witnesses impeached themselves and made the other two look like liars,” Cornell says. “When are they going to decide enough is enough? We’re just going to show that they’re liars.” 

Johnson mentions a forthcoming community event and then references a Greensboro Police Department e-mail discovered by the support committee that includes a narrative describing a roadside encounter with an intoxicated Latin King with Chicago connections who says he was sent to “get close to” Cornell and that he was about to be “taken out.” 

“You were a target,” Johnson tells Cornell. “They knew it. They had a person. There are two levels on which this is happening. One is the press conference. One is a motion for them to give up everything.” 

Greensboro Assistant Police Chief Dwight Crotts was present in the courtroom as a spectator on Wednesday morning and Tuesday afternoon. A spokesperson has said the police department is prohibited under a gag order by the US Attorney’s Office from addressing any queries from the public that have to do with the Latin Kings. 

Six days into the trial, Patrick filed a motion requesting a court order to the government to turn over all documents related to the investigative leads on assassination attempts against Cornell. 

In another conversation with Johnson, Cornell says, “They’re trying to tie me into this Maplewood shooting.” 

He cites trial testimony by former Latin King Jose Argomaniz, also known as King Munchy, that after the shooting Cornell was among a group of kings who met at Hooters, while noting that Argomaniz testified to the grand jury, in contrast, that Cornell had not been there. 

“[The defense lawyers] said, ‘Who did you lie to — this jury or the grand jury?’” Cornell tells Johnson. “He was caught up in all these lies. It’s looking bad for these prosecutors.” 

As part of the hearing, Patrick provided a summary of the testimony he expects from Johnson to reassure the court that none of it would address ground covered in the conversations with Cornell about previous testimony by government witnesses. 

Patrick said Johnson would testify about a gang treat summit, a call the pastor received from Cornell in the hospital, a statement of forgiveness Cornell asked Johnson to convey after the shooting, and “continued efforts on the community organizing front.” 

Judge Beaty said he would allow Johnson’s testimony, but told prosecutors they could object if he discussed anything beyond the parameters outlined by Patrick. 

Lee-Dixon asked Beaty for additional sanctions against Cornell, arguing that there was “clearly a breach of the trial’s integrity."

“I did not order as part of the sequestration order anything other than to not be in court,” Beaty said, adding that he agreed that any attempt to subvert the court order was troubling. 

Beaty asked federal marshals to located Daniel Carson and Daniel Stainkamp and notify them that they would be excluded from the courtroom for the remainder of the trial. Lee-Dixon informed the judge that she had been mistaken about the identity of the unnamed young man who had previously been thrown out. “He’ll be excluded, too,” Beaty said, “whatever his name is.” 

The judge went to say that anyone caught taking notes for defendants will be removed from the courtroom. 

Saralee Gallien testified for the defense that Latin King Charles Moore stayed with her in August 2011 when he needed emergency housing to avoid ending up homeless. She said he had been hospitalized recently with cuts and burns, and that he was also struggling with alcohol abuse. Gallien testified that Moore told her that he had been beaten up after a group of people broke into a friend’s apartment and demanded that he show them where some drugs were stashed, and that he ended up being hospitalized as a result. 

Patrick asked Gallien if Moore told her about taking any further action. 

“He mentioned that he had been able to meet with the people who had beaten him, and they were able to resolve it,” Gallien testified, adding that Moore described the resolution as amicable. 

Moore and Richard Robinson, another Latin King, have previously testified for the government that after members of the Bloods beat Moore, Cornell directed a group of Latin Kings to shoot into the apartment. 

Under cross-examination, Gallien gave vague answers about whether, when and how often she has had contact with Cornell since he has been jailed on the racketeering charges, often stating that she did not remember conversations that took place in the past three weeks. 

After a testy cross-examination, the government played extensive audio recordings of conversations between Cornell and Gallien. 

In one of the conversations, Gallien shared details with Cornell of a community meeting and plans for a press conference, which eventually occurred on Oct. 8. Gallien shared her perception of media coverage of the trial and discussed the need for the support committee to provide its own account. 

“Jordan at YES! Weekly is not reliable,” Gallien says. “We feel like Jordan will not always be paying attention. We want to have somebody there to take notes. We’re doing a better job than they are and showing details that they’re overlooking.” 

Judge Beaty told the jury that Gallien’s entire testimony would be stricken, and instructed members to particularly ignore what she had said about an incident with Moore and how it was resolved. 

“We find this witness’ testimony not to be credible,” he said. 

Deena Hayes, a Guilford County School Board member, took the stand when court resumed at 2:30 p.m. She was one of a string of witnesses who testified about Cornell’s community activities as part of the defense’s effort to counter the government portrayal of the Latin Kings as a criminal enterprise. 

Hayes testified that the superintendent established a school safety committee at her request in response to news headlines in 2006 about gangs in schools, and she ended up chairing the committee. She said she became aware of Cornell’s work with a number of pastors in 2008. 

Hayes testified that she attended a community forum to learn more, and asked him to join the school safety committee. She said Cornell actively participated on the committee. 

“He had given me some information about some of our students who were posting online that they were members of his organization — and they were not,” Hayes testified, adding that the school administration took action by contacting the student’s parents. 

“He was running for office and he sat on panels as a candidate,” Hayes said, testifying to other community activities undertaken by Cornell. “I saw him at community events and block parties. He started Community United Staffing, and I was invited to be part of the advisory board. It was conceived as a staffing agency that would pay living wages to people who were chronically unemployed or faced employment barriers.” 

Cornell, Hayes testified, had been the nascent staffing agency’s executive director. 

Under cross-examination, Hayes said she invited Cornell to come over to her house four or five times to work on his city council campaign. On one occasion, Cornell came with Eric Ginsburg, his co-campaign manager at the time, and on others he came with King Bam and King Spanky. Bam is Wesley Williams, a defendant who has struck a plea deal. Spanky is Carlos Coleman, another defendant, whose charges were dismissed on Tuesday. 

Ginsburg testified about interviewing Cornell for an article in 2008, working on his city council campaign, attending the US Social Forum in Detroit in the summer of 2010 and a party he threw that was attended by Latin Kings. 

Ginsburg has worked as a reporter for YES! Weekly since January 2011, including an eight-month unpaid internship. 

“You are not a Latin King,” Patrick began. 

“No, sir,” Ginsburg replied. 

Ginsburg said he met Cornell in the summer of 2008 at a community meeting at the Beloved Community Center, and “approached him to say I would be interested in interviewing him for an article.” 

The judge sustained an objection by the government to a statement by Ginsburg that one of the topics of discussion at the community meeting had been police harassment, striking it from the record. 

Ginsburg gave detailed testimony about an August 2009 incident in which Cornell was arrested by members of the Greensboro Police Department at an outdoor concert near Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing Co. on South Elm Street. He said he arrived before anyone else to the event, in which he planned to meet Cornell and others to pass out campaign literature. 

“Did you see anyone you thought were associated with gangs?” Patrick asked. 

“No, sir,” Ginsburg responded. 

Ginsburg said he spotted Samuel Velasquez and Wesley Williams, along with Cornell’s two daughters. He said he waved at them, and they waved back. Under questioning from Patrick, Ginsburg testified that he did not use the Latin Kings hand sign, and neither did the two Latin Kings members. 

Then he testified that he saw police Officer Roman Watkins, who was wearing clothing with the words “gang unit” on it. 

“After I waved at them, the police started walking towards them,” Ginsburg testified. “I had a camera with a video. My friend had a cell phone that could take video. We both filmed the incident and walked toward where Wesley Williams and Samuel Velasquez were with Cornell. Mr. Cornell got there before me. 

“One of the officers was getting out his Taser,” Ginsburg continued. “I heard Jorge telling Watkins to get out of his face…. Cornell was expressing concern for his daughters and the situation generally. I observed Mr. Cornell get arrested.” 

Ginsburg testified that he maintained a friendly relationship with Cornell after the city council campaign, which ended when the candidate failed to clear the primary in October. 

He described traveling with 50 to 60 people from Greensboro, including about six Latin Kings, to attend the US Social Forum in Detroit, which overall drew abut 40,000 people. 

“There were several marches that I participated in with the Latin Kings that had to do with foreclosure and farm-worker rights,” Ginsburg testified. He said Cornell was asked to speak on a panel, and that Cornell suffered a heart attack and remained in the hospital for much of the event. 

Assistant US Attorney Robert AJ Lang attempted to make Ginsburg look credulous in cross-examination. He asked Ginsburg if he knew that Peaceful — defendant Russell Kilfoil — was the first crown. Ginsburg said he hadn’t been aware of that. 

“You have all this interest in the Latin Kings and weren’t aware of their crown structure?” Lang said. 

“I’ve been reading updates from my coworker, Jordan Green,” Ginsburg responded. 

Lang asked Ginsburg about a party at his house in which Moore and Robinson have testified that Latin Kings were involved in a fight. The prosecutor struggled to establish the setting to orient the witness, at first asking if he recalled an “incident that happened at Guilford College” involving Latin Kings. Ginsburg responded that he invited Latin Kings on campus on several occasions. 

Then Lang asked about a party while Ginsburg was a student. 

“There were several parties while I was a student,” Ginsburg testified. 

Eventually, the witness explained to the prosecutor that the party took place at his house, which was off campus, on the night of his graduation. Ginsburg testified that one of the neighbors called the police to complain about noise. 

“You told the police the Latin Kings were not involved?” Lang asked. 

“No,” Ginsburg testified. 

The prosecutor followed up by asking whether Ginsburg saw a Latin King punch anyone. 

“I don’t recall seeing anybody punched,” Ginsburg testified. He added that by the time the police arrived, there was no problem and he assured the officers he would resolve any issues. He did so by asking most of the guests to leave. 

Brian Sims, a psychology professor at NC A&T University, testified that he spoke with Cornell on a panel on black-brown unity at Guilford College in 2008. Cornell’s comments impressed Sims as being relevant to a class he was teaching called “Psychological Perspectives in Hip Hop.” Sims testified that Cornell showed up with 12 to 15 “kings and queens,” and spoke for 25 minutes about “the relationship between social justice organizations and how they’re portrayed, and contemporary hip hop.” 

Sims said he was also asked to serve on the advisory board of Community United Staffing. He testified that Greensboro City Councilman Jim Kee was called in from time to time for consultation, although he was not a particularly active member of the advisory board. Sims said he filled out grant applications, while other members of the advisory board contributed in other specific ways. 

“It was his vision, but he got other people to do the work for him,” Lang prodded in cross-examination. 

“Mr. Cornell was the ultimate decision-maker,” Sims concurred. 

Sherry Giles, a professor at Guilford College, testified that she met Cornell and several other Latin Kings members at the Beloved Community Center in 2008, and that she helped with the planning of the “black-brown unity conference.” Giles said Cornell and other Latin Kings, both male and female, spoke to one of her classes in the spring of 2009 about the peace effort and something called the “paradigm shift initiative.” 

The government, with Judge’s Beaty’s cooperation, has sought to block testimony that might come across to the jury as criticism of the Greensboro Police Department. They successfully did so with a reference by Giles to Cornell speaking on the topic of “police accountability” in the course of about seven different presentations to her classes, and a reference to Cornell participating in a panel discussion about “community-police relations.” 

In another development, Lee-Dixon told Judge Beaty on Wednesday morning that during the testimony of Guilford County Sheriff’s Office Detective John Lowes “one of the defendants made a gesture toward him in a threatening manner.” 

The judge has ordered the US Marshal’s Service to release video of the courtroom during Lowes’ testimony so that the US Attorney’s Office can review it.


Logan J. Skew said...
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Logan J. Skew said...
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Eric Ginsburg said...

Just a note: I said an officer pulled out a taser, not mace.

Jordan Green said...

Thanks, Eric. I'll correct that.