MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP, abc24.com) — A federal judge late Tuesday denied motions for a mistrial in the case of two Memphis men charged with being contract killers for the multistate drug organization led by Craig Petties.
District Court Judge Samuel Mays Jr. denied defense attorneys' motions for a mistrial in the trial of Clinton Lewis and his cousin, Martin Lewis.
Defense lawyers claimed the federal government did not release crucial information until midway through the trial about a conflict related to key evidence in the trial.
Mays said the government did not completely fail to disclose the information and the Lewises' due process rights were not violated.
The judge stopped the trial on Monday after defense lawyers filed the mistrial motion. Mays ordered the jury back to court on Tuesday morning, but sent them home because attorneys for the defense and the government still had to file briefs related to the mistrial motion. Both the defense and prosecutors filed arguments with Mays on Tuesday afternoon.
The Lewises have pleaded not guilty to committing murders for the Petties gang, which is accused of importing millions of dollars-worth of cocaine from Mexico for sale in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina. They also are charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and money laundering.
Petties has pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering and hiring hit men to kill four people who were threats to the organization. Several admitted gang members — but not Petties — have testified in the trial.
Defense attorneys have questioned the credibility of gang members who have testified. They say that the government's case is based on testimony from men who could receive or have received reduced charges and sentences in return for their cooperation
The Lewises face life in prison if convicted. Their trial is in its fifth week.
The mistrial issue concerns a .45 caliber gun that authorities said was used in the murder of Marcus Turner, whose body was found in Olive Branch in north Mississippi in September 2006. Prosecutors said in an indictment that Clinton Lewis kidnapped and killed Turner on orders from Petties.
Gang member Marcus Brandon testified that he saw Clinton Lewis give a .45 caliber gun to fellow drug ring member TeMarcus Cartwright in exchange for another weapon. Brandon said he believed Lewis, his close friend, killed Turner with a .45 caliber handgun.
A Drug Enforcement Administration task force member testified that Cartwright said in a 2008 interview that Lewis gave him the .45 caliber gun and Cartwright then led detectives to it.
However, in two interviews with prosecutors before the trial, Cartwright said it was actually Brandon — not Clinton Lewis — who gave him the gun in exchange for another weapon.
The conflicting testimony was not reported to the defense by prosecutors until early March, when the trial was under way.
When Cartwright was not called as a witness by prosecutors, defense attorneys asked for a mistrial.
On Monday, the judge called Cartwright to testify. Without the jury present, Cartwright said he never told drug enforcement authorities where he obtained the gun, The Commercial Appeal reported
Marty McAfee, defense attorney for Martin Lewis, said Tuesday that the government's failure to disclose to the defense about Cartwright's conflicting information amounts to a withholding of evidence that could affect the outcome of the trial.
McAfee said he would have conducted his cross-examinations of government witnesses in a different way had he known about Cartwright's statements to prosecutors before the trial.
"The jury verdict is only meaningful if the jury sees the truth, not the part the government wants them to see," McAfee said before the ruling.
Prosecutors argued that the defense's mistrial motions didn't have merit and asked Mays to dismiss them.
In his ruling, Mays said that a criminal trial is unpredictable and witnesses testify in unexpected ways.
"Here, there was not a complete failure to disclose," Mays wrote.