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United States of America v. Amifa S. Knight

November 21, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
AMIFA S. KNIGHT, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands (Division of St. Croix) (D. C. No. 1-09-cr-00005-001) District Judge: Honorable Raymond L. Finch

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roth, Circuit Judge:

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued on December 6, 2011

Before: FISHER, GREENAWAY,JR. and ROTH, Circuit Judges

OPINION

Amifa Knight appeals the judgments of conviction and sentence on charges of perjury arising out of statements she made at a suppression hearing in the District Court of the Virgin Islands. She seeks review of the District Court's ruling on an evidentiary issue, its denial of her motion for acquittal, and its application of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. We find no error in the District Court's determinations on these issues, and we will therefore affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 12, 2008, Amon Thomas and Shadrock Frett engaged in a violent gun fight at Frett's apartment in St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. Both men sustained gunshot wounds which resulted in their hospitalization at Juan Luis Hospital in St. Croix. Thomas, less severely injured than Frett, was discharged on May 16, 2008. Five days later, on May 21, 2008, at approximately 3:50 a.m., six masked gunmen entered the hospital, located Frett, and shot him to death.

A police investigation revealed that the gunmen entered the hospital through an employee entrance with the benefit of an employee "swipe card," proceeded directly to Frett's room, committed the murder, and left in under three minutes. Based on these circumstances, investigators suspected that a hospital employee may have been involved in the crime in some capacity. They examined the hospital's electronic patient records system, which showed that Knight, an admissions clerk, had accessed Frett's records at 7:24 p.m. on May 20, 2008, just hours before he was killed. Investigators subsequently obtained Knight's cell phone records, which indicated that she had telephone conversations with Thomas's brother, Halik Milligan, at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. that same evening.

On January 26, 2009, Thomas Drummond, a special agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Dino Herbert, an officer of the Virgin Islands Police Department, jointly interviewed Knight about the hospital shooting. During her questioning, Knight stated to the investigators that she had no prior knowledge that someone would enter the hospital and kill Frett. She claimed that she did not know Frett's room number on May 20, 2008, and that she did not remember accessing the hospital's records system to ascertain it that night. She admitted that Milligan was her boyfriend but denied that she had any phone conversations with him on May 20th. She further stated that she never disclosed Frett's room number to anyone.

The following day, January 27, 2009, Herbert and Drummond obtained a warrant and arrested Knight for making false statements to a federal agent on the basis of this interview. They again questioned her, but this time confronted her with her cell phone records, showing that she had been in contact with Milligan on the night of Frett's murder, and with a printout from the hospital's records system, indicating that she had looked up his room number that night. Faced with this evidence, Knight admitted that, prior to May 20, 2008, Milligan had asked her whether she could obtain Frett's room number and that she informed him that she could. She stated that at 7 p.m. on May 20th, Milligan called her and specifically asked her for Frett's room number. Knight admitted that she then accessed the hospital's records system to determine Frett's location, and that at 7:30 p.m., she called Milligan to inform him that she had this information. According to Knight, Milligan came to the hospital approximately one hour later, at which point she gave him Frett's room number. She admitted that she had been aware of a plan to kill Frett prior to the time that it was carried out.

On February 19, 2009, Knight was indicted on six counts of making false statements to a federal officer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2).*fn1 She moved to suppress the statements she had made following her arrest on January 27th, arguing that they were coerced and that she had not been properly advised of her Miranda rights. A hearing was held on Knight's suppression motion on April 16, 2009, at which she testified about her January 27th interrogation. She also made a number of statements concerning events at the hospital on the night of Frett's murder. First, she stated that she had accessed Frett's electronic hospital records three or four times on the evening of May 20, 2008. Second, she claimed that she did so in order to determine his room number so that she could provide it to friends and family of Frett's who wanted to visit him and whose telephone calls had been transferred to her by the hospital's telephone operator. Third, she claimed that Milligan was a friend of Frett's and wanted to visit him at the hospital.

On August 13, 2009, the Government issued a superseding indictment in Knight's case, charging that each of these three statements constituted perjury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1621(1). A charge of conspiring in Frett's murder, in violation of 14 V.I.C. §§ 551(1) and 922(a) (1), was also added. Knight was ultimately acquitted on the six original charges of making false statements to a federal agent and on the conspiracy charge. She was convicted, however, on the three perjury charges and sentenced to 36 months imprisonment.*fn2 Knight now appeals, arguing that the District Court erred in (1) admitting irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial evidence pertaining to the May 12th shooting at Frett's apartment and the May 21st shooting at the hospital, (2) denying her ...


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