Nestled in the federal court reporter’s notes on the three-hour hearing, held Friday in Roanoke for the case against accused members of Danville’s Milla Bloods, is a telling detail that is only two sentences long.
“US intends to move that the [case] be tried in Danville,” the record states. “Court agrees, and if it is possible to do it safely in that courthouse, it may be done there.”
The federal racketeering trial against accused members of the Millas could come to Danville with a judge’s approval. Up until that court reporter’s notation, all signs had pointed to a possible trial in Roanoke early next year.
Accused members of two Danville gangs were indicted in June 2018 in connection to attempted murders, drug trafficking and the shooting death of Christopher Lamont Motley in 2016. The gangs — the Milla Bloods and the Rollin 60s Crips — were sets of national gangs that contributed to the violence in Danville those years, court papers state.
Pretrial conferences with defense attorneys, their clients and government prosecutors have been held in Roanoke’s federal courthouse since July because of the smaller facilities in Danville. Judge Michael F. Urbanski has maintained since the cases’ earliest proceedings it should stay as close to the Danville community as possible. He ruled a Danville jury should hear the cases but elected to host the two trials in Roanoke chiefly because of security concerns stemming from Danville’s federal courthouse.
The consensus among attorneys and Urbanski was Danville’s courthouse did not have adequate space or holding cells to accommodate all the defendants and their lawyers at once. Also up for consideration was Lynchburg’s courthouse before Roanoke was decided upon. At prior status conferences in the spacious courtroom, the number of defendants and defense attorneys exceeded the number of seats at the defense’s table. Some lawyers and their clients had to sit in the empty jury box.
The case against accused members of the Millas began with eight defendants. Half have pleaded guilty to the charges and no longer require a trial. The hearing minutes also state Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Huber noted the number of defendants left before signaling the prosecution’s intent to motion for the Millas trial to happen in Danville.
Spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia’s western district Brian McGinn confirmed the notes taken in the hearing and said a more complete explanation of the reasoning for moving the trial to Danville will be filed in court.
“[O]ur office has moved to have the trial of the last four defendants moved to Danville,” McGinn wrote in an email. “A more thoroughly written motion will be filed with the court in the coming weeks.”
Also debated during the status conference was the length of trial. Noting another gang case with more defendants had been tried more quickly, Urbanski said he felt the trial could be shortened from seven weeks to four. The record also shows the judge was considering not holding court Fridays “for comfort of jurors, which will reduce further time in court,” the record states.
As for the companion case against the accused members of the Rolling 60s, charged in connection to many of the same crimes, it still is slated to be held in Roanoke. That case, which has indictments against 12 defendants, has had four guilty pleas, leaving eight to stand trial.
The trial against accused members of the Millas is scheduled for January while the trial against accused members of the Rollin 60s is scheduled for October.
Whitlow writes for the Register & Bee. Contact him at (434) 791-7983.