ROANOKE — When the sound on the police body camera footage came on in the courtroom, the first words were haunting.
“Killed my cousin,” an anguished voice said. “Killed him, dawg.”
The video, which was being shown to jurors in a federal trial about alleged gang activity in Danville, then showed a young man lying on the steps of an apartment building. The officer’s flashlight illuminated the thin man known as “Mouse” to his friends.
The man lying dead in the footage was Christopher Motley, killed in a shooting Aug. 20, 2016. It was the main focus of Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Carlton’s opening statement to jurors in the trial, which features eight defendants facing a variety of racketeering and murder-related charges. Motley’s family members were present at opening statements — Carlton gestured to them during her opening — and were visibly emotional during as the video played.
The fact that Motley was shot and killed is not under dispute in the federal case. What is being argued, as attorneys repeated in their statements, is whether the defendants were the ones who pulled the trigger and whether they committed a series of acts “to further the gang,” as Carlton put it.
That dispute will have to wait a few more days, as Chief Judge Michael Urbanski decided to delay the beginning of evidence in the case until at least Monday. The ruling came after defense attorneys stated they had not received two grand jury transcripts from prosecutors.
When two witnesses were being questioned about the case in federal court grand jury hearing, the transcript showed that Carlton stated one of the witnesses had changed his story from his statements in a state court grand jury hearing, attorneys detailed in court Wednesday.
Defense attorneys, especially Aaron Houchens, argued that the defense should have access to those state grand jury transcripts to see what the contradictory statements were. Carlton acknowledged that the prosecution had not supplied them, which she said was not intentional.
Urbanski, who said he was “as perturbed as I can possibly be,” asked prosecutors if there are more transcripts that might have also been overlooked. Carlton and other prosecutors said they wanted to make 100% sure there weren’t any, and suggested they take at least a day off from the trial to go back through court records.
Urbanski scheduled a 2 p.m. Thursday status hearing for an update with the attorneys, and told jurors they didn’t have to come back until Monday morning.
During her 80-minute opening statement, Carlton showed jurors Facebook photos, videos and conversations that she claimed illustrated that many of the defendants were members of the Rollin’ 60s Crips street gang. In court, she pointed to 35-year-old defendant Marcus Jay Davis and labeled him as the leader of the gang.
Davis, wearing a pink dress shirt and a striped multicolored tie, shook his head gently from side to side.
One of Davis’ attorneys — Bev Davis (no relation) — concurred with his clients' sentiment, asserting that the alleged members of the Rollin’ 60s were “wannabe” Crips and that Marcus Davis was certainly not their leader. Marcus Davis is more than a decade older than the other defendants, and Bev Davis said that evidence in the trial will show that he was not close with them.
Bev Davis asserted that while some of these defendants might have committed crimes, he doesn’t think they did it with any kind of coordinated effort.
“At best, evidence will show some of them are independent contractors, acting for themselves, but not part of a criminal enterprise,” he said.
Four other defense attorneys gave opening statements, all asserting that federal prosecutors are pushing too hard for convictions. Defense attorney Aaron Cook, representing Kevin Trent, told jurors that “this is a case about overreaching prosecutors and overzealous police officers.”
Defense attorneys also repeatedly asserted that the prosecution’s case rests heavily on cooperating witnesses — or “snitches,” as defense attorneys frequently say.