Judge and attorney discussions that took place away from the jury’s ears, at the start of court and in between witness testimony, in an ongoing federal gang trial revealed Danville Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Newman’s multi-jurisdictional grand jury into violent activity throughout the region continued into this year.
The initial revelation of unknown state grand juries and missing transcripts came last month, just after a jury had been picked to hear the federal racketeering and murder case against alleged members of the Rollin’ 60s Crips, but before the first witness was called to testify. The brouhaha that followed led to seven defendants taking plea deals in a matter of days, leaving as the sole defendant Marcus Jay Davis, accused leader of the gang. Many of the defendants who took plea deals now face 15 years in prison as the maximum punishment instead of the initial threat of life behind bars.
This new revelation comes on the heels of the bombshell Newman dropped last week of finding two boxes filled with manila folders containing recorded interviews from related state special grand jury hearings in 2015.
“The court was astounded to learn from Mr. Newman that this multi-jurisdictional grand jury continued into 2018 and 2019,” Chief Judge Michael Urbanski said Wednesday of the new revelation.
Newman and Pittsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Haskins initially opened special grand juries to investigate shootings and gang activity in the Dan River Region in 2012 and repeatedly petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court to allow the investigation to continue. The problem is Newman did not transcribe recordings of witness testimony to those grand juries, as required by law. He also did not create a list of who testified or when special grand jury sessions were held.
“It’s required by law to be transcribed,” Urbanski noted before court began Tuesday morning. “This Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorneys Office didn’t comply with that statute.”
In turn, federal prosecutors have had difficulty turning over all discovery — the process where prosecutors have to turn over pertinent information in a defendant’s case — which was due by April 1.
On Tuesday, court began with the judge and attorneys addressing special grand jury testimony from a specific day in 2017. The problem is that no one was sure if any witnesses testified before the special grand jury that day.
“There was in fact no testimony from that day,” Urbanski eventually noted.
The judge also noted his order from the previous day for Newman to look for envelopes related to special grand jury testimony and provide a list of names to “see if witnesses from that [grand jury] are in this case.”
“[Newman] did not bother to see if any of the witnesses in this case appeared in the grand jury,” Urbanski said Wednesday. “I find that in this stage beyond comprehension.”
The most recent special grand jury began October 2018 and lasted until this month, a federal prosecutor told Urbanski. It was also noted on May 14, a grand jury met to investigate the March shooting death of Hikeem King. Five witnesses were interviewed, with one being a former member of the Rollin 60s Crips. The case against those involved in King’s death is still ongoing in the city’s circuit court.
Newman, when approached by the Danville Register & Bee following a closed meeting with the judge and other attorneys, said he could not comment on the new revelations.
“This case is still pending,” he said. “I can’t say anything about the case.”
Avent is a reporter with the Danville Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 797-7983.