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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Appeals court upholds sentences, convictions for 13 Insane Deuces

11:14 | ,

federal appellate court has issued a decisive and sweeping rebuke of appeals filed by 13 former Aurora gang members convicted on racketeering charges.

The rulings by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals uphold the foundation of the case against the Aurora Insane Deuces: Members of a suburban street gang can be part of a criminal conspiracy to commit murder and deal drugs. The decisions were issued last week.

The opinions relate to the 2005 arrest of 15 members of Aurora’s Insane Deuces street gang. (A 16th suspect is still at large.) Prosecutors charged the men with being part of a criminal conspiracy tied to four murders, 11 attempted murders and up to $1.25 million in drug trafficking in 2002.

The sweep marked the first time in more than a decade that federal prosecutors had pursued a local gang using racketeering charges.

The men were tried in three groups and all were convicted or pleaded guilty. Eight received life sentences. For those who didn’t get life, their sentences totaled almost 200 years in prison.

Thirteen men filed appeals, arguing they were denied a fair trial for several reasons, including juror misconduct and misleading instructions to the jury. Lawyers for the convicted men also argued that the judge should not have allowed for an anonymous jury or banned two men from sitting through their trial.

The appeals were filed by attorneys for Mariano Morales, Christian Guzman, Romell Handley, Arturo Barbosa, Miguel Rodriguez, Brian Hernandez, Lionel Lechuga, Harold Crowder, Bolivar Benabe, Julian Salazar, Juan Juarez, Stephen Susinka and Fernando Delatorre. All the men are from Aurora except Juarez, a Sandwich resident, and Benabe, a Chicagoan.

Morales, Guzman, Barbosa, Rodriguez, Hernandez, Benabe, Salazar and Delatorre are serving life sentences.

Steven Perez has filed a separate appeal in the case, and Akeem Horton did not appeal his guilty plea.

Nearly all the men argued that they were not part of a conspiracy. While they admit to being gang members, they mostly deny their actions were part of a coordinated plan, or that they had any knowledge of what other gang members planned to do.

At trial, the prosecutors played recordings of gang members discussing drug sales and the strategies to target rivals. (The meetings had been secretly recorded by a former high ranking member.) But the men said they were individuals who were not always working as part of a conspiracy.

In one case, attorneys for Crowder argued he was so violent both inside and outside the gang, he was essentially freelance violence, not organized crime.

“Crowder’s argument, despite being creative, is unconvincing,” Judge Michael Kanne wrote in the appeal ruling. “While he might not have formally been an Insane Deuce, the relevant question was whether he had joined the racketeering conspiracy.”

The appellate court pointed out that the racketeering statute only requires prosecutors to prove that the men agreed that someone commit the criminal acts, not that they commit the acts themselves. Crowder was far from the only defendant to argue that he was treated unfairly by the court.

Two of the defendants, Benabe and Delatorre, did not attend any of their trial because of outbursts in the pre-trial hearings. Delatorre repeatedly argued that he was a sovereign entity and challenged the legitimacy of the U.S. government to arrest him. Benabe took up the same gripe.

“The judge also made it clear that they could return to court to attend their trial whenever they were willing to promise to behave. Neither ever did so,” Kanne wrote. “(The judge) was patient and judicious in dealing with these defendants’ persistent attempts to disrupt their prosecution. He took the extraordinary step of barring them from attending trial only after it was clear that they intended to disrupt the trial.”

The appellate court also found the judge’s decision to allow jurors to be anonymous throughout the trial was reasonable and did not prejudice the jurors against the defendants. The appellate court also found no merit to arguments that jurors who had joked amongst each other about the trail after verdict was reached had tainted their decision.

Federal prosecutors were understandably pleased with the appellate decisions.

“It’s a testament to the tremendous work done by the Aurora Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Pope, who prosecuted all the cases.

Pope highlighted the tremendous impact that several large sweeps have had on Aurora, where murders dropped from 25 in 2002 to two in 2008.


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