ROANOKE — At least four defendants in the Danville gang case have reached plea agreements with federal prosecutors, court filings suggest.
Kevin Lamont Trent Jr., Shabba Larun Chandler, Kanas Lamont’e Trent and Phillip Daekwon Miles — four of eight defendants facing gang-related charges — are expected to plead guilty throughout the day today, according to notices filed Monday. The four defendants initially pleaded not guilty to such charges as racketeering and murder and were poised to go through a drawn out, weeks-long trial.
Details of the plea agreements were not publicly available Monday. Six of the defendants — including the four who filed for plea deals Monday — were facing charges that carried mandatory life sentences.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, those four were the only defendants to schedule hearings to change their pleas. The jury is scheduled to return Wednesday, according to motions filed in the case.
The plea deals come after the trial ground to a halt just days after a jury had been sworn in.
The case has been at a standstill since last Wednesday after it came to light federal prosecutors had not supplied an unknown number of potentially key court records to defense attorneys. The records in question are transcripts of interviews given to a state special grand jury in Danville about alleged gang activity in the area.
Later in the week, Danville Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Newman admitted he had presided over these special and multi-jurisdictional grand jury hearings and had not supplied the transcripts to federal prosecutors. Newman, who was part of the federal prosecution team in the case, withdrew from the team Friday.
In court Thursday, attorneys for each of the eight defendants asked Chief Judge Michael Urbanski dismiss the charges. They were heated in their criticism of Newman in particular.
Multiple defense attorneys, including Chris Kowalczuk — representing Deshaun Trent — filed motions over the weekend asking Urbanski to dismiss the charges. Kowalczuk, who called the situation “a maelstrom of the government’s making” in court Thursday, pointed to courtroom statements from Newman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Carlton as evidence of them misleading Urbanski.
In court Wednesday and Thursday, Urbanski repeatedly asked Carlton and Newman if there might be other transcripts out there they hadn’t supplied to defense counsel. It turned out, in fact, their staff found more tapes of interviews that hadn’t been transcribed or supplied to defendants.
In his motion filed Monday morning, Kowalczuk said these repeated statements to the judge were “nothing short of a direct attack on the rule of law,” and he accused prosecutors of lying to the judge.
“Ms. Carlton and Mr. Newman, by their actions, seek nothing but convictions at all cost,” Kowalczuk wrote, “and have demonstrated that they will stop at nothing — including lying to the Court — on the record and in open court to achieve their purpose.”
Brian McGinn, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia, declined to comment on the plea deals Monday.
Urbanski made clear to attorneys in court and via email he didn’t consider the prosecution’s conduct severe enough to dismiss the charges. As of Monday evening, he had not made a ruling on whether to call a mistrial or just delay the trial for the prosecution’s staff to transcribe the grand jury tapes.
Defense attorneys said in court and in motions this weekend they’re concerned about how jurors will perceive this long break. The last time jurors were in the courtroom was last Wednesday, when they heard opening statements from Carlton and from defense attorneys.
If called back, jurors will see quite a different scene in the courtroom. Half of the defendants could be missing from the defense table.
At the prosecution table, Newman will be replaced with Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Barish Swartz, who now is working with the prosecutors.