Jurors who will hear the federal cases against accused members of the Rollin 60s Crips and Milla Bloods street gangs will be drawn from the Danville area — the ruling comes after a month of back-and-forth debate between defense attorneys and government prosecutors.
“Danville Division citizens should not lose their opportunity to participate in the jury whose verdict will determine the outcome of a case that affects their community,” U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski wrote in a recently released order.
Urbanski has ordered that the pool of possible jurors to hear both cases will come from the Danville division — encompassing the cities of Danville and Martinsville as well as the counties of Charlotte, Halifax, Henry, Patrick and Pittsylvania. The drive to Roanoke’s federal courthouse, where the trials will be held, could take as long as two hours for someone in this division.
Federal prosecutors, who sought a jury pool from the Roanoke area, also lost their bid for an anonymous jury because there was no clear evidence of danger to the jury or interference in the proceedings.
Initially, 18 suspected members of the Rollin 60s and Millas were indicted last June in connection to the shooting death of Christopher Lamont Motley and other attempted killings. Since then, the number of indictments has increased to 20 people and seven have pleaded guilty.
Prosecutors had requested the juries be drawn from the Roanoke division to save jurors from long rides to court. Urbanski, who from the first status conference was in favor of a Danville jury, said the logistical inconveniences do not outweigh the community’s right to hear the case.
“This case emanates from the Danville Division and belongs there,” Urbanski wrote.
The judge also pointed out that jurors drawn from the Roanoke division could be required to make hefty commutes as well. The division covers Roanoke city and county along with counties as far southwest as Grayson, which could be as much as a two-hour drive to the federal courthouse, and northeast as Alleghany, which could be as much as an hour-and-a-half drive.
Prosecutors petitioned to have the jurors’ identities concealed throughout the two racketeering cases out of concerns for their safety from possible reprisal and intimidation, but Urbanski wrote that there has not been any concrete evidence of a potential threat and denied the request.
Additionally, Urbanski wrote, an anonymous jury can “limit” defendants’ constitutional rights, giving jurors the impression that they need protection from those they judge. That makes defendants seem dangerous.
“An anonymous jury threatens two substantial constitutional rights: the right to trial by an impartial jury… and the right to a presumption of innocence (made the more difficult for jurors to respect by the inferences they may unavoidably draw from their own anonymity),” Urbanski wrote.
Prosecutors also indirectly pointed to the October shooting death of Dwight Montel Harris at 625 Cabell St. as cause for empanelling an anonymous jury. Without naming Harris, the government wrote that a victim named in the indictments was lured into “the heart of the defendants’ gang territory and shot to death in broad daylight.” Harris had been named in the indictment and was shot before prosecutors filed emergency motions to prohibit defense attorneys and defendants from revealing witnesses’ names.
Urbanski noted the government’s reasoning but said that was not evidence linking the shooting to the cases. He noted there have not been other attempts to interfere with the prosecution.
“In almost every case in which a court decided an anonymous jury was warranted, the court had undisputed evidence of specific instances of meddling in the judicial process, usually by violence or threat,” Urbanski wrote. “Here, in contrast, there is nothing — other than timing — linking the shooting incident to this case.”
The trials, scheduled to begin in October and January, are expected to take seven weeks for each case.