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United States of America v. Steven Northington

February 1, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.


Presently before the Court is Defendant Steven Northington's Motion to Strike Government Notice of Intention to Admit Other Act Evidence Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure [sic] 404(b). (ECF No. 910.) For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Strike will be denied.


On May 9, 2012, a federal grand jury returned a seventeen-count Fourth Superseding Indictment (the "Indictment") charging Defendant Steven Northington with: conspiracy to participate in the affairs of a racketeering ("RICO") enterprise, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (Count 1); two counts of murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2502(a), 306 and in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1), (2) (Counts 5, 7); and tampering with a witness, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(A) (Count 8). (Fourth Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 480.)*fn2 Defendant was charged along with three co-defendants, Kaboni Savage, Robert Merritt, and Savage's sister, Kidada Savage. Lamont Lewis was also charged in the First Superseding Indictment. The charges against Lewis were disposed of by guilty plea on April 21, 2011.

The charges against Defendant arise out of a long-standing RICO drug conspiracy that was supported by murder and witness intimidation. The Government alleges that all four Defendants were members of a regional criminal organization, which was based in North Philadelphia and was known as the Kaboni Savage Organization ("KSO"). (Indictment 5.) From late 1997 through April 2010, the members of this racketeering enterprise conspired and agreed to distribute large quantities of controlled substances, to commit murder and arson, and to tamper with, and retaliate against, witnesses who had testified, or were about to testify, against the racketeering enterprise or its members. (Id. at 6-8.) The KSO packaged, prepared and distributed cocaine, crack and phencylclidine ("PCP") throughout the greater Philadelphia area, and collected drug proceeds in exchange. The KSO operated drug distribution centers, also known as "drug corners," throughout North Philadelphia and maintained control of these drug corners through a pattern of threats, intimidation, violence and murder. (Id. at 5.) The KSO was also committed to maintaining, preserving, protecting and expanding its power, territory, and profits. (Id. at 6.) It did this by tampering with and retaliating against Government witnesses and their families through the use of threats, intimidation, violence, and murder. (Id.)

On October 9, 2004, six people, including four children, died as a result of arson at a home located at 3256 North Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Indictment alleges that Kaboni Savage and Kidada Savage solicited and ordered Lewis and Merritt to set fire to the home of Eugene Coleman, a former associate of Savage. (Indictment 21-23.) Kaboni Savage believed that Coleman was cooperating with the Government and planned to testify against him in his 2005 federal drug conspiracy trial.*fn3 The firebombing took the lives of Coleman's mother, infant son, and four other relatives. The Government intends to show at trial that the firebombing was ordered by Savage in order to intimidate Coleman and prevent him from testifying against him at the 2005 drug conspiracy trial.

The Indictment further alleges that, in support of the KSO, Defendant murdered Barry Parker on February 26, 2003. (Id. at 42.) On April 27, 2007, Defendant was found guilty of the murder in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, and sentenced to life in prison. On March 1, 2004, Defendant is alleged to have murdered Tybius Flowers in order to prevent Flowers's attendance and testimony at Kaboni Savage's trial for the murder of Kenneth Lassiter in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. (Id. at 44-45.)

The evidence in question relates to Defendant's arrest on September 8, 2004 on East Wyoming Avenue and B Street in North Philadelphia. Prior to his arrest, on May 20, 2004, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Kaboni Savage, Defendant, and others with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine, money laundering, firearms offenses, and intimidation of witnesses. (Gov't's Notice 2.) After the indictment was unsealed, federal agents arrested Kaboni Savage, but could not locate Defendant to arrest him. (Id.) A month later, on June 20, 2004, the Government recorded a phone call between Kaboni Savage and Kidada Savage, which the Government claims involved a message to Defendant that he "better go ahead" and "get on that." (Id.) Three months later, after being recognized by a law enforcement official, Defendant was arrested during a speeding stop in North Philadelphia. He was driving with a can of gasoline, latex gloves, and a loaded nine millimeter semi-automatic handgun. (Id. at 3.)

After Defendant was arrested on the federal drug conspiracy charges and after the trial in 2005, Defendant was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine and firearms possession. Defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of two hundred thirty-five months. On March 14, 2011, the Government filed a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty against Kaboni Savage, Robert Merritt, and Defendant. (ECF Nos. 196, 197, 198.)

On December 17, 2012, the Government filed a Notice of Potential Prior Bad Acts Evidence Pursuant to FRE 404(b). (Gov't's Notice, ECF No. 828.) On January 16, 2013, Defendant filed a Motion to Strike. (Def.'s Resp., ECF No. 910.)


A. Parties' Contentions

The Government seeks to introduce evidence related to Defendant's arrest on September 8, 2004, which it argues is direct proof of the existence and operations of the KSO. (Gov't's Notice 1.) The Government maintains that the evidence it intends to introduce is direct and intrinsic evidence of the charged conspiracy and not Rule 404(b) prior bad acts evidence. (Id. at 3.) As discussed infra, intrinsic evidence does not require notice and is admissible pursuant to a Rule 403 analysis. In the alternative, the Government argues that the circumstances surrounding Defendant's arrest are admissible under Rule 404(b) as evidence of a plan, a common KSO goal, and the relationship between Kaboni Savage, ...

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