Supporters of the Latin Kings wait outside the Forsyth County Detention Center to greet Samuel Velasquez, who was one of three defendants acquitted of racketeering charges. (photo by Chad Nance)
A jury of 12 in Winston-Salem has convicted North Carolina Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell of three counts of criminal racketeering, while convicting two other defendants of a single count.
The jury of eight women and four men (eight white and four black) found Cornell’s brother, Russell Kilfoil, guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, along with Ernesto Wilson, a defendant who was never a Latin King but whom the government argued was an associate in fact with the enterprise.
Three other defendants, Randolph Kilfoil, Samuel Velasquez and Irvin Vasquez, were found not guilty.
Cornell faces a sentence of life imprisonment because of the convictions on the additional counts, respectively aiding and abetting assault with a dangerous weapon and knowingly carrying a firearm during a violent crime in aid of racketeering.
The two additional counts both relate to a shooting at Maplewoods Apartments in Greensboro in April 2008 in which construction worker Rogelio Lopez was shot in the chest with birdshot. Marcelo Ysrael Perez, a defendant who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government, admitted that he was the shooter.
Michael Patrick, Cornell's court-appointed lawyer, argued during the trial that Cornell had been nowhere near the scene of the crime and had nothing to do with it.
The jury attributed a single act of attempted murder, a single act of conspiracy to commit murder, multiple acts of robberies, a single act of interference with interstate commerce and multiple acts of bank fraud to Cornell, Russell Kilfoil and Ernesto Wilson, while finding that the defendants did not engage in arson, extortion or narcotics trafficking. The attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder elements both relate to the Maplewood Apartments shooting, as all other evidence of murder was suppressed during the trial.
Curtis Holmes, Wilson’s court-appointed lawyer, questioned how the jury could have found that his client was responsible for attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and bank fraud when the only evidence presented by the government during the trial had to do with his alleged participation in robberies.
US District Court Judge James A. Beaty responded that Wilson was alleged to have committed more than two robberies, and that the jury evidently determined that they were guilty of all acts committed as part of the enterprise. The judge had declined to clarify a question from the jury on that matter during deliberations, but indicated to counsel outside of the jury's presence that he took the same view of the law.
None of the supporters were in the courtroom when the clerk read the verdict, although two or three have waited in the café on the fourth floor of the federal building throughout the week. Cornell did not react when the verdict was read, but he scanned the gallery as if looking for supporters before he was taken into custody.
The judge excused the three defendants who were acquitted. Two, Randolph Kilfoil and Vasquez are currently serving time for other crimes. Velasquez was released from the Forsyth County Detention Center in an emotional reunion with his family, supporter Saralee Gallien said.
Four supporters were holding a banner on North Main Street when the verdict came down. When informed of the three guilty counts against Cornell, supporter Daniel Stainkamp wept and embraced a friend.
As a small crowd gathered outside the Forsyth County Detention Center to await Velasquez’s release, Gallien said that Cornell wants to appeal the verdict.
Visibly upset at the verdict, some of the supporters yelled at the jurors as they emerged from the federal building parking garage in a van and berated television reporters, calling them “vultures” because cameramen tried to film them while they were crying.
Prosecutor Leshia Lee-Dixon declined to comment after the verdict was handed down.
Chad Nance contributed reporting for this story.