About 15 defendants in the state's massive racketeering indictment against the Athens Park Bloods gang will receive more specifics on their alleged roles in the conspiracy, hopefully by the end of July.
In the next 30 days, prosecutors need to tell 15 or so men and women what crimes they allegedly committed in furtherance of the street gang and when they committed them, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz ruled Monday. Those defendants filed a "bill of particulars," a legal document that asks the state to give them more detailed information about the charges brought against them.
Greenholtz said Monday he's going to hold off on other requests for evidence since prosecutors are still receiving information from federal agencies. Prosecutor Barry Williams said he's working to get every defendant their evidence before the Halloween deadline, and that defendants on Friday were given recorded jailhouse phone calls that authorities could use as evidence in the case.
As in many cases, evidence has been a central topic of discussion since March, when Hamilton County prosecutors used the state's racketeering law to charge 54 people with conspiring to further the objectives of the Athens Park Bloods, a street gang that's allegedly responsible for killing a state's witness, burglarizing homes, starting fires, selling drugs, and using ill-gotten proceeds to bail members out of jail. At a minimum, each of the 54 defendants faces a Class B felony that carries 12-20 years in prison. Others also face murder charges.
But some defense attorneys say this situation is different. Unlike a standard criminal case where defendants have an inkling of why they were arrested and charged, about 40 defendants don't know what specific offenses they allegedly committed to further the gang. The only way to learn more is through the state's evidence, which prosecutors are obligated to turn over.
But aside from the jailhouse calls, some defense attorneys said Monday they hadn't received specific evidence about their clients' roles.
"The object of the conspiracy is not just participating in the gang," said Chattanooga defense attorney Ben McGowan, who is representing Che'Anthony Cannon. "It's defined by specific activities and offenses. There is nothing in [the state's] presentment that shows any of that [for my client], and I have not had the benefit of any further information. So there's nothing I can do for Mr. Cannon but sit on my hands and scream into the wind."
Williams said the state is sifting through massive amounts of evidence. For one defendant, Williams said, authorities had to download 60 hours of jailhouse phone conversations. Though he didn't give a specific date, he said prosecutors would make the evidence available as soon as possible.
Defense attorneys say that evidence is a must. From their perspective, they need to know the state's witnesses, any unindicted co-conspirators, any possible conflicts of interest and other information that would help them file strong motions.
They suggested prosecutors should have something available from when they went to the grand jury to secure indictments in March.
"We would like something well in advance of [the next court date] with respect to what was taken to the grand jury to produce the presentment," Chattanooga attorney Phil Fleenor said.
Elsewhere in the case, after hearing about 30 minutes of back-and-forth argument, Judge Greenholtz said he would take a motion to dismiss already filed by defense attorneys for Cortez Sims under advisement. Sims was recently charged with the 2014 murder of a 14-year-old and was convicted of the 2015 murder of Talitha Bowman in College Hill Courts. Three other defendants in this case are charged with killing the state's primary witness in Sims' 2015 case: Bianca Horton.
Attorneys John Cavett and Josh Weiss said the state racketeering law calls on county prosecutors to show that defendants had a "financial gain" for each alleged crime they committed for the gang.
Prosecutor Williams disagreed and said the ultimate goal of the enterprise is to make money to profit themselves. He said the law gives prosecutors two ways to prove that: By showing "financial gain" or by showing members were committing criminal gang offenses.
But Cavett said the law, at best, is vague. "[The Legislature] certainly could have made that more clear," he said. "They could have amended the legislative history to say, "with respect to the gang crimes, it's not to the same degree focused on [financial] gains."
The next court date is July 30.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.