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United States v. Ruffin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2015



TERRENCE F. McVERRY, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a MOTION IN LIMINE (ECF No. 91) filed by Defendant Andre Dwayne Ruffin with a brief in support (ECF No. 92). The government has filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 98). Accordingly the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

On May 7, 2013, a federal grand jury sitting in the Western District of Pennsylvania returned a one-count Indictment against Ruffin which charged him with the crime of Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon on or about April 22, 2013 in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(e). On October 15, 2013, the government filed a Superseding Indictment which charged Ruffin with the crime of Possession of Firearms and Ammunition by a Convicted Felon on or about April 22, 2013 in violation of the same federal statutes.

The charges against Ruffin stem from a series of events that unraveled after his so-called common-law wife, Leicia Jackson, died intestate on May 18, 2012. Prior to her death, Leicia and Ruffin shared a home located in the Munhall Borough at 704 East 14th Avenue, Homestead, Pennsylvania. The title to the property was in Leicia's name. Loretta Jackson, Leicia's mother, was appointed as the personal representative of her daughter's estate on June 27, 2012. Within days of the appointment, Ruffin sent Loretta a vaguely threatening letter in which he challenged her right to the property. According to court records, Loretta and Ruffin were scheduled to have a hearing regarding the probate of the estate on April 12, 2013.

On April 11, 2013, Loretta was shot and killed inside of her home. Officers from the West Mifflin Police Department were dispatched to the residence after the activation of an alarm system and the receipt of a 9-1-1 call from an unidentified woman inside the home. Upon their arrival, police officers found one woman inside the residence in a locked bedroom as well as Loretta inside a second bedroom with multiple gunshot wounds to her head and body. The same day, the West Mifflin Police Department requested investigative assistance from the Allegheny County Police Department's Homicide Section. The homicide investigation remains ongoing.

On April 12, 2013, Detective Scott Towne of the Homicide Section went to 704 East 14th Avenue in an attempt to speak with Ruffin about Loretta. Detective Towne instead encountered Ruffin's girlfriend, Sataria Hamlin, at the residence and asked that Ruffin contact him via telephone. Additionally, Detective Towne observed a video surveillance system on the exterior of the structure.

On April 15, 2013, Detective Towne interviewed Ruffin who claimed that he was at home with Hamlin on the evening of Loretta's murder. One week later, on April 22, 2013, West Mifflin Police Officers and members of the Allegheny County Police Department, Homicide Section executed a search warrant at the residence of Ruffin and Hamlin to recover the video recordings and corroborate or disprove his alibi defense.

Immediately prior to the execution of the search warrant, Officer Jamie Caterino of the Munhall Police Department observed Ruffin exit the residence and depart in his vehicle. Upon learning this information, Detective Michael Feeney of the Allegheny County Police Department and several other officers conducted a car-stop of Ruffin who stated that his residence was unoccupied. Detective Feeney relayed this information to the officers who were executing the search warrant, which included Allegheny County Homicide Detective Lane Zabelsky.

Detective Zabelsky and Officer Caterino soon approached the residence and announced their presence at which time Hamlin opened the door. Based on the apparent contradiction between Ruffin's statements and Hamlin's presence, Detective Zabelsky performed a protective sweep of the residence. In a second-floor bedroom, Detective Zabelsky first observed one firearm in an open dresser drawer (later determined to be a starter pistol). In another second-floor bedroom, Detective Zabelsky observed a second firearm in a safe which had an ajar door.

Law enforcement officers then applied for and obtained a second search warrant on April 22, 2013 to search for and seize the firearms and any other weapons in the residence. Officers later recovered, inter alia, (1) a Rock River Arms pistol, Model LAR-PPS, caliber 5.56, bearing serial number BA003375; (2) a Spike's Tactical Receiver, Model ST15, bearing serial number SBR-09005; and (3) multiple rounds of.223 caliber and 7.62 × 39 caliber ammunition-the firearms and ammunition charged in the Superseding Indictment. According to the Superseding Indictment, Ruffin is prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition due to his prior felony convictions.

A later law enforcement investigation and review of the seized firearms revealed that they had been purchased by Hamlin. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm and Explosives ("ATF") interviewed Hamlin who allegedly indicated that she "straw purchased" these firearms for Ruffin at his request. The government charged Hamlin with two counts of falsification of firearms purchase form. See United States v. Hamlin, 2:13-cr-00138-TFM (W.D. Pa. Oct. 15, 2013). Hamlin has since pleaded guilty to these offenses and has been sentenced.

A jury trial is scheduled to commence on the instant Superseding Indictment on Monday, February 23, 2015. In anticipation of trial, the government has provided notice of its intention to present the following prior act evidence at trial pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 404(b):

1. A May 2010 arrest of Andre Ruffin at 704 East 14th Avenue, Homestead, PA for possession of a firearm and related charges, a search warrant for that location and evidence recovered therein;
2. Andre Ruffin's 2010 attempt to tamper with a witness/suborn perjury in relation to the criminal charges then pending in relation to #1 above;
3. 2010-2013 business records reflecting firearm related purchases being made with a credit card registered to Andre Ruffin and products being delivered to him and/or to his residence at 704 East 14th Street, Homestead, PA;
4. Andre Ruffin's September 2002 possession of a firearm arrest and resulting criminal proceedings;
a. This information will include, but is not limited to, documents and a handwritten note reading, "Conviction for having my gun. But in my wife's name, " recovered on April 22, 2013, from inside of 704 East 14th Avenue, Homestead, PA;
5. Firearms shooting incidents involving Andre Ruffin that occurred in: (a) September 2012 in the vicinity of 704 East 14th Avenue, Homestead, PA 15120, and (b) 2013 in the vicinity of 936 East 8th Avenue, Munhall, PA 15120;
6. Andre Ruffin's membership, and position of leadership, within the Ruff Life Motorcycle Club, an Outlaw Motorcycle Group;
7. Instances of Andre Ruffin obtaining firearms through "straw purchases" that occurred in or around: (a) September 2010, (b) February 2011, (c) September 2011, ...

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