A federal judge has turned down a request for a new trial by former North Carolina Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell and two co-defendants who were found guilty of racketeering in December.
Cornell, along with fellow Latin King and biological brother Russell Kilfoil and an associate named Ernesto Wilson filed a motion for new trial following the verdict based on the contention that the jury was confused about court instructions on the use of a special verdict sheet.
On the second day of deliberations, the jury asked Judge James A. Beaty for clarification on whether the government's burden of proof rested on establishing that each defendant participated in two racketeering acts or whether they merely had to agree to participate in a racketeering enterprise in which two racketeering acts were committed.
The judge told lawyers for the government and the defendants that "the court cannot provide the answer for the ultimate decision they must make" and instead of answering the jurors question, called them back into court and read the jury instructions for a second time.
When the jury returned guilty verdicts for three of the defendants, they submitted verdict sheets indicating that the three had planned or committed the exact same racketeering activities: Multiple acts of robbery and bank fraud, and single acts of conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and threats or violence.
"In light of the evidence presented at the trial of the case, it is clear that the only way the jury could have found identical predicate acts for each of the convicted defendants would be for the jury to ignore the instructions to consider the defendants individually and to base its verdict on the notion that each member of the conspiracy was responsible for all predicate acts that the jury concluded involved the enterprise," Michael Patrick, Cornell's court-appointed lawyer, wrote in the motion.
Defense lawyers cited as the most clear-cut evidence of confusion by the jurors the evidence against Wilson, who was convicted as an associate of the Latin Kings rather than a member.
"The government's evidence taken in the light most favorable to the government was that Mr. Wilson participated in a series of store robberies in April 2007," the motion stated. "No evidence indicated that Mr. Wilson remained in North Carolina after May of 2007 or that he had any further contact with the other persons that the government alleged were members of the conspiracy in this case. Nevertheless, Mr. Wilson was found responsible for conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, interference with commerce by threats or violence and multiple acts of bank fraud. The government's evidence established that none of these acts occurred before the spring of 2008 and in the case of the Smith Homes shooting — which may have been found to be the attempted murder predicate act — occurred as late as August 2011, more than four years after Mr. Wilson left North Carolina."
Judge Beaty responded in a written ruling on Wednesday to the effect that the defendants were mistaken in the jury was required to unanimously find that a particular defendant was responsible for committing specific racketeering acts himself.
"Defendants were not charged with and convicted of, committing individual racketeering acts," Beaty wrote. "Rather, defendants were charged with, and convicted of, conspiracy to conduct or participate in the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity."