Federal prosecutors in the cases against accused members of Danville’s Milla Bloods and Rollin 60s Crips have motioned to drop multiple firearm charges against defendants. That could mean as many as 24 dropped charges across the two cases.
Filed May 31, the motion identifies four use-of-firearm charges — those connected to the attempted shootings of Armonti Womack, Dwight Montel Harris, Justion Wilson and Tyliek Conway — across the two racketeering cases to drop. Government attorneys are seeking to dismiss those charges “for reasons related to judicial economy, prosecutorial resources and prosecutorial discretion,” the motion states.
Twenty defendants were charged across the two cases in connection to the attempted shootings and the homicide of Christopher Lamont Motley in 2016. Of those defendants, eight have pleaded guilty.
Defense attorneys have fought to dismiss various charges since the cases began a year ago. But one of the first attempts to fight the use-of-firearm charges came in January. Defense attorney Paul Beers argued his client, Jalen Cormarrius Terry, should not face the two use-of-firearm charges against him.
At the heart of the argument is the legal definition of a crime of violence.
Those two firearms charges are connected to two brandishing-of-a-firearm charges against Terry. The defense attorney’s argument is that the brandishing charges do not constitute a crime of violence, a legal categorization necessary to bring the use-of-firearm charges.
Jeffrey Grell, professor of law at University of Minnesota and a private attorney, clarified that prosecutors can bring charges to federal court using the language and provisions of state laws. The language of the Virginia law Terry and others are charged with does not necessarily constitute a violent crime, a difference which defense attorneys argue warrants dismissing multiple counts of using a firearm across the two cases.
“There are these federal statutes that allow prosecutors to essentially look to the laws that let them prosecute individuals as efficiently as possible,” Grell said. “As a U.S. prosecutor, you can rely on both state and federal law to charge people.”
The logic behind defense attorneys’ push to drop the charges stems from a U.S. Supreme Court case where judges ruled, in favor of defendants, that the legal language of the statute defendants are charged under has to be considered when determining whether a crime can be classified as a crime of violence.
“You cannot bring these federal charges unless it is a crime of violence, and based on the statutory language, that is not a crime of violence,” Grell explained.
Federal prosecutors did not agree with the argument in their motion but have moved to drop them anyway.
All told, 37 charges could be dropped, but 13 are against the eight defendants who have already pleaded guilty across the two cases. If they abide by the conditions of their plea agreements, multiple court papers state, the government will move to dismiss any remaining charges against them. As for the 12 defendants who have yet to stand trial, they could see the 24 charges against them dropped.
Another defendant, who is charged in a third case involving many of the same events, also pleaded guilty but is not included in the prosecution’s motion to drop charges.
According to court documents, the indictments stem from gang shootings, including Motley’s on Aug. 20, 2016. After allying with each other, the Millas and the Rollin 60s devised a plan to shoot and kill the leader of a rival Bloods- affiliated gang, called the Billys, court documents state. Anthony, who is accused of being a ranking member in the Millas organization, called the rival gang members and antagonized them. Then, armed members of the allied gangs fanned out throughout the Southwyck Hills Apartments to set an ambush. They were targeting the Billys’ leader and second-in-command.
When a white van pulled into the parking lot, they opened fire from multiple directions, hitting and killing Motley, who was a passenger in the vehicle, according to court documents.
The Millas case is set for trial in January, and the prosecution also intends to motion for it to be held in Danville. The Rollin 60s are scheduled for trial in October.
Whitlow writes for the Register & Bee. Contact him at (434) 791-7983.