Judge strikes a blow for open records in Latin Kings case

A federal judge has turned down a request by the government to seal transcripts reflecting testimony by six witnesses in the racketeering case against the North Carolina Latin Kings.

Prosecutors sought to shield the testimony of former Latin Kings members Marcelo Perez (Sacrifice), Luis Alberto Rosa (Speechless), Richard Robinson (Focus), Charles Lawrence Moore (Toasty), Allan Jordan (Smooth), along with a sixth witness, Antwan Lloyd.

The government contends that the information could be used for retaliatory purposed by North Carolina Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell (Jay) and other defendants, Russell Kilfoil (Peaceful) and Ernesto Wilson. Cornell and Wilson were sentenced in August, while Kilfoil's sentencing has been scheduled for Oct. 9. The government is also concerned that three other defendants who pleaded guilty but did not cooperate — Jason Paul Yates (Squirrel), Wesley Anderson Williams (Bam) and Steaphan Acencio-Vasquez (Leo) might use the information for retaliatory purposes.

US District Court Judge James A. Beaty found that the government did not meet the "heavy burden" of overcoming the common law presumption that the public has the right "to inspect and copy all judicial records and documents."

"The government wishes to shield the witnesses' trial transcript testimony from defendants who were present at the public, criminal trial and could readily identify witnesses and their testimony," Beaty wrote. "Thus, any potential act of retaliation may not necessarily stem from witnesses' trial transcripts."

Beaty said the government's request comes far too late to be meaningful, considering that the trial took place 10 months ago.

"The nature and content of witnesses' testimony were the subject of extensive reporting in the news and such information is available to the public from various media outlets," Beaty added. "Therefore, any act now by the court to shield witnesses' trial transcripts from the public would not likely thwart third-party retaliation because the request comes 'too late' to prevent public disclosure."

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