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United States v. Northington

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

May 6, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
STEVEN NORTHINGTON

MEMORANDUM

R. Barclay Surrick U.S. District Judge

Presently before the Court is Defendant Steven Northington’s Motion for a New Trial (ECF No. 1546). For the following reasons, Defendant’s Motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 13, 2013, a jury found Defendant Steven Northington guilty of conspiring to participate in the affairs of a racketeering enterprise, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (“RICO conspiracy”), and of two counts of murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(a)(1). (Verdict Sheet, ECF No. 1330 (filed under seal).) Defendant was tried along with three Co-Defendants: Kaboni Savage; Robert Merritt; and Kidada Savage. Defendant now moves for a new trial, contending that the Court erred on multiple grounds.

A. The Indictment

The seventeen-count Fourth Superseding Indictment was returned on May 9, 2012, charging Defendant and his co-Defendants with various crimes relating to a RICO conspiracy involving drug trafficking, murder, and witness intimidation. (Fourth Superseding Indictment (“Indictment”), ECF No. 480.)[1] Count 1 of the Indictment, the RICO conspiracy count, charged all Defendants with conspiring to participate in the affairs of a racketeering enterprise, which is referred to in the Indictment as the Kaboni Savage Organization (“KSO”). The Indictment alleged that from late 1997 through April 2010, the KSO conspired and agreed to commit racketeering acts, such as murder, dealing in controlled substances, arson, witness tampering, and money laundering. (Indictment ¶ 1(a)-(f).) The Indictment states that Defendants and others were “members of a regional criminal organization” that “maintained control of its drug distributions, and its exclusive control of its drug corners, through a pattern of threats, intimidation, violence, and murder. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 5.)

The Indictment sets forth the roles that each of the Defendants played with respect to the enterprise, and states that Defendant “was a drug distributor, drug corner boss, enforcer and assassin for the KSO.” (Id. at ¶ 12(c).) The Indictment further states that Defendant “participated in murders, the distribution of controlled substances, carrying firearms during violent crimes, witness tampering, and witness retaliation.” (Id.) The Indictment sets forth 140 paragraphs of overt acts that were alleged to have been committed by Defendants “[i]n furtherance of the conspiracy, and to effect the objects and purposes” of the conspiracy. (Id. at ¶14(1)-(140).) Many of the overt acts describe events involving co-conspirators and Defendant’s co-Defendants. The overt acts involving Defendant relate to: the distribution of controlled substances; the murder of Barry Parker in February of 2003; the murder of Tybius Flowers in February of 2004, which was allegedly committed to prevent Flowers from testifying against Kaboni Savage in a state court murder trial; and the threatening of a co-conspirator and cooperating witness during a federal drug conspiracy trial. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-39, 46, 54-55, 126.)[2]

B. Pretrial Motions

Over seventy pretrial motions were filed in this case. Countless other motions were filed during the trial. Many of the motions dealt with issues related to capital punishment, while others addressed evidentiary issues, sufficiency of the Indictment, trial procedure, the jury selection process, and discovery. In the instant Motion, Defendant takes issue with the Court’s ruling on five of those motions: (1) the motion to sever; (2) the motion to suppress evidence; (3) the motion to preclude prior bad acts evidence; (4) the motion to secure the jury from the county of offense; and (5) the motion to increase the pool of prospective jurors and strike the current jury panel. We address, briefly, the procedural history of each of these motions.

On February 17, 2012, Defendant filed a motion to sever his trial from the trial of his co-Defendants. (Def.’s Severance Mot., ECF No. 363.) On April 5, 2012, the Government filed an omnibus response to all of Defendants’ motions to sever, including Northington’s. (ECF No. 450.) On December 18, 2012, the Court filed a Memorandum and Order denying Defendants’ motions to sever. (Severance Mem., ECF No. 846; Severance Order, ECF No. 847.)

On February 21, 2012, Defendant filed a motion to suppress physical evidence seized from 3908 North Franklin Street. (ECF No. 401.) On April 16, 2012, the Government filed an omnibus response in opposition to Defendants’ motions to suppress physical evidence obtained pursuant to valid search warrants. (ECF No. 466.) On January 23, 2013, Defendant filed a memorandum in further support of his motion to suppress physical evidence. (ECF No. 934 (filed under seal).) The Government filed a response to Defendant’s memorandum that same day. (ECF No. 936.) On January 30, 2013, the Court filed a Memorandum and Order, both under seal, denying Defendant’s motion to suppress. (Suppress Mem., ECF No. 983 (filed under seal); Suppress Order, ECF No. 984 (filed under seal).)

On December 17, 2012, the Government filed a notice of potential prior bad acts evidence pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). (ECF No. 828.) The evidence related to an arrest of Defendant that occurred on September 8, 2004. On January 16, 2013, Defendant filed a motion to strike this notice and to preclude the evidence from being admitted at the trial. (ECF No. 910.) The Government filed a response to Defendant’s motion to strike on January 1, 2013. (ECF No. 921.) On February 1, 2013, we filed a Memorandum and Order denying Defendant’s motion to strike. (404(b) Mem., ECF No. 1023; 404(b) Order, ECF No. 1024.)

On February 21, 2012, Defendant filed a motion to secure the jury from the county of offense, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3235 (ECF No. 403) and a motion to increase the pool of eligible jurors (ECF No. 406). On April 10, 2012, the Government filed a response to both of these motions. (ECF No. 457.) On October 2, 2012, we filed a Memorandum and Order denying Defendant’s motion to secure the jury from the county of the offense. (County Mem., ECF No. 639; County Order, ECF No. 640.) On November 6, 2012, Defendant filed another motion to increase the pool of prospective jurors, and to strike the current jury panel. (ECF No. 701.) On January 28, 2013, a Memorandum and Order was entered denying Defendant’s motion. (Juror Mem., ECF No. 969; Juror Order, ECF No. 970.)

C. Jury Selection

Jury selection began on September 27, 2012 and lasted until January 29, 2013. Selecting and empaneling a jury in any capital case involves significant time and effort because prospective jurors must be carefully screened to ensure that they can maintain impartiality in their views about capital punishment. In addition, because of the nature of this case, the parties predicted that the case would last many months. It was therefore necessary to ensure that the prospective juror was capable of committing to sit through the guilt phase and penalty phase of this multi-Defendant capital trial. It was determined prior to jury selection that the process for empaneling a jury would remain anonymous due to concerns about the safety of jurors.[3]Approximately 1, 130 jurors were initially summoned to fill out extensive jury questionnaires that included questions about their backgrounds, possible hardship concerns, attitudes about the death penalty, and general views about aspects of the criminal justice system. Counsel for all parties reviewed the questionnaires and agreed to strike many of the jurors for hardship and for cause. The remaining approximately 350 jurors returned for individual voir dire, scheduled over the course of several weeks. The jury that was ultimately selected consisted of twelve jurors and six alternate jurors. Two of the selected jurors and one alternate juror were African American.

D. The Trial, Conviction, and Verdict[4]

Opening statements began on February 4, 2013. The trial lasted approximately fourteen weeks. During the trial, the Government presented over 70 witnesses, over 1000 exhibits, and numerous intercepted Title III wiretap conversations. All of this evidence was used to develop the Government’s theory that Defendants, together with other co-conspirators, participated in an overarching RICO conspiracy involving drug distribution, murder, arson, witness tampering, and witness retaliation. Although not all of the evidence and testimony related specifically to Defendant, there was substantial evidence that permitted the jury to determine Defendant’s involvement in the RICO conspiracy. The evidence and testimony, as it related to Defendant, centered on his drug distribution activities, the murder of Barry Parker, the murder of Tybius Flowers, and Defendant’s September 8, 2004 arrest in North Philadelphia. A significant amount of the trial evidence related to the October 9, 2004 firebombing of the home of Eugene Coleman, a former associate of Kaboni Savage. Suspicious that Coleman was cooperating with the Government, Savage directed co-conspirator and cooperating witness, Lamont Lewis, to set fire to Coleman’s home. Lewis solicited the assistance of his cousin, co-Defendant Robert Merritt. Lewis was charged in the First Superseding Indictment; however, the charges against Lewis were disposed of by guilty plea on April 21, 2011. The firebombing took the lives of Coleman’s mother, infant son, and four other relatives. At trial, the Government established that the firebombing was ordered by Savage, with the assistance of his sister, Kidada Savage, to intimidate Coleman from testifying against him at the 2004 drug conspiracy trial. Defendant was not charged in the six murder counts in the Indictment related to the firebombing, and the Government never alleged that Defendant was in any way involved in the arson murders that took place on October 9, 2004.

On May 13, 2013, the jury returned its verdict in the guilt phase of the trial. The jury found Defendant guilty of RICO conspiracy (Count 1), the murder of Barry Parker in aid of racketeering (Count 5), and the murder of Tybius Flowers in aid of racketeering (Count 7). (Verdict Sheet; Min. Entry, ECF No. 1329.)[5]

As part of their verdict, the jury made special findings in accordance with Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). These findings were required to determine the potential maximum sentence Defendant faced for the RICO conspiracy conviction. The jury found unanimously, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the following sentencing factors were proven as to Defendant:

Special Sentencing Factor #5: The Barry Parker Murder
On or about February 26, 2003, in Philadelphia, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the defendants, KABONI SAVAGE and STEVEN NORTHINGTON, knowingly and intentionally murdered, knowingly aided and abetted, and willfully caused the murder of, and aided, agreed, or attempted to aid, and solicited another to commit, the murder of Barry Parker, a human being, in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that is, Title 18, Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated, Sections 2502(a) and 306.

(Verdict Sheet 5-6.)

Special Sentencing Factor #7: The Tybius Flowers Murder
On or about March 1, 2004, in Philadelphia, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the defendants, KABONI SAVAGE and STEVEN NORTHINGTON, knowingly and intentionally murdered, knowingly aided and abetted, and willfully caused the murder of, and aided, agreed, or attempted to aid, and solicited another to commit, the murder of Tybius Flowers, a human being, in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that is, Title 18, Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated, Sections 2502(a) and 306.

(Id. at 7.)

The jury made one other finding with respect to Count 1. Specifically, they determined that the following special sentencing factor was not proven as to Defendant:

Special Sentencing Factor # 2: The Drug Distribution Conspiracy
From a time at least as early as in or about late 1997 to on or about August 16, 2007, in Philadelphia, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, the defendants, KABONI SAVAGE, ROBERT MERRITT, STEVEN NORTHINGTON, and KIDADA SAVAGE, knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed to distribute, and to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, 280 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base (“crack”), heroin, marijuana, and one kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of phencyclidine (PCP); all in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846.
[As to each defendant, the jury must be unanimous as to whether 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, 280 grams or more of cocaine base (“crack”), 1 kilogram more of PCP, or any combination of those threshold amounts, was involved in conspiracy and foreseeable to that defendant.]

(Id. at 2-3.)

After the verdict, Defendant proceeded to the penalty phase of his trial. On June 13, 2013, the Jury determined that Defendant should be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. (Min. Entry, ECF No. 1465.) On June 19, 2013, the court imposed that sentence on Defendant. (Min. Entry, ECF No. 1485; Northington Sent. Verdict Sheet, ECF No. 1488.)

E. Procedural History

On July 1, 2013, Defendant filed a motion for extension of time to file post-verdict motions. (ECF No. 1493.) The Court granted Defendant’s motion on July 2, 2013. (ECF No. 1494.) The Order stated that Defendant has until ninety days from the date of the Order to file post-verdict motions. (Id.) On October 2, 2013, which was 92 days after the entry of the Court’s order extending the deadline, Defendant filed another motion requesting an extension of time to file post-verdict motions. (ECF No. 1542.) The Court granted Defendant’s second request for an ...


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