U.S. v. HOULIHAN Crim. No. 93-10291-WGY.
887 F.Supp. 352 (1995)
UNITED STATES of America v. John HOULIHAN, Michael Fitzgerald, William Herd, and Joseph Nardone, Defendants.
United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.
May 4, 1995.
George W. Vien, U.S. Attys. Office, OCDETF Div., Crim., Frank A. Libby, Jr., Richard L. Hoffman, Paul V. Kelly, Antoinette E.M. Leoney, U.S. Attys. Office, Boston, MA, for U.S.
YOUNG, District Judge.
This case involves the prosecution of twelve defendants alleged to be members of a ruthless cocaine trafficking enterprise. The defendants, or certain of them, were charged in a forty-eight count indictment with distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, engaging in a racketeering enterprise, racketeering conspiracy, three murders in furtherance of a racketeering enterprise, conspiracy to commit murder in furtherance of a racketeering enterprise, four attempted murders in furtherance of a racketeering enterprise, using firearms in relation to a federal crime of violence, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, and criminal forfeiture.
The government alleged that, prior to his death, Sargent told law enforcement officers that he was a street distributer for a Charlestown narcotics ring allegedly run by Houlihan and Fitzgerald. In his conversations with police, Sargent described the structure of the Houlihan-Fitzgerald cocaine operation, his role in the organization, and how he became involved.
On June 28, 1992, George Sargent was killed by multiple gunshot wounds. The government alleged that Houlihan and Fitzgerald ordered Nardone to commit the murder because, among other things, they feared that Sargent was talking to the police about Houlihan and Fitzgerald's criminal conduct.
Prior to the commencement of the proceedings, the government moved in limine to introduce at trial Sargent's statements to the police
The Court deferred a determination of the issue until the government had presented the great bulk of its case so that the Court could make its decision upon a complete trial record and after extensive oral argument.
A. The Waiver Theory
1. Sixth Amendment
A waiver of a constitutional right is ordinarily valid only where there is "an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege." Johnson v. Zerbst,
More recently, the Sixth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits have held that when a defendant threatens or coerces a potential witness out of testifying at trial, the Confrontation Clause does not prohibit the admission of the witness' prior out-of-court declarations. See Steele v. Taylor,
The Second and Fifth Circuits, as well as a district court in the District of Columbia, have adopted this analysis but taken it a step further. In addition to holding that a witness' prior statements may be admitted to prove the facts asserted, these courts have also concluded that such statements may be used as circumstantial evidence for the purpose of proving the additional charge of witness tampering or murder of the witness. See United States v. Aguiar,
Following this line of reasoning, the government here argued that because Sargent was a potential trial witness who was made unavailable by the actions of Houlihan, Fitzgerald, and Nardone, these defendants waived their rights to object to the admission of out-of-court statements made by Sargent to the police. Although the First Circuit has never confronted this particular problem, the Fifth Circuit's decision in Thevis is similar in many respects to the instant case and therefore provided this Court with guidance.
In Thevis, the key witness in the prosecution's racketeering case against leaders of an illegal pornography operation was murdered about four months after the return of an indictment charging racketeering, and shortly before the witness was to enter the federal
This Court agrees with the Fifth Circuit that when confrontation of a witness is impossible because of actions of the persons asserting the right, "logic dictates that the right has been waived." Id. at 630. To allow a defendant to benefit from murdering a witness against him would "make a mockery of the system of justice that the [Sixth Amendment] was designed to protect." Id. This Court, therefore, held that the waiver analysis suggested by the government was grounded in both logic and precedent and was thus applicable to the case before it.
2. Federal Rules of Evidence
The Supreme Court has noted that, while the Confrontation Clause and Federal Rule of Evidence 802, barring the admission of hearsay, protect the same policy interests, Ohio v. Roberts,
However, in Thevis, the case closest to the one before the Court, the Fifth Circuit rejected such an approach, holding that Rule 804(b)(5) does not require a dual finding of waiver and reliability. 665 F.2d at 627-28, 633. Rather, the Fifth Circuit explained that where a defendant waives his right to confrontation under circumstances described above, that defendant also waives his right to object on the basis of hearsay. Id. at 628, 633.
Indeed, the majority of courts that have confronted the issue have held that when a defendant waives his Sixth Amendment rights by procuring the absence of a witness at trial, the accused also waives any hearsay objection to the admissibility of the witness' prior statements. See United States v. Thai,
3. Standard of Proof
Houlihan, Fitzgerald, and Nardone argued that in determining whether to admit Sargent's prior statements, the Court should analyze the government's proffer under the "clear and convincing" evidence standard. The government, on the other hand, urged the Court to adopt a "preponderance of the evidence" standard.
The government correctly noted that the majority of courts to address the waiver issue have adopted the preponderance standard. See Aguiar, 975 F.2d at 47; Steele, 684 F.2d at 1202; Balano, 618 F.2d at 629; White, 838 F.Supp. at 624. But see Thevis, 665 F.2d at 630-31 (adopting clear and convincing evidence standard).
Nevertheless, this Court thinks it significant that, where the accuracy of the evidence is important, the Supreme Court has conditioned admissibility on compliance with the clear and convincing standard. See United States v. Wade,
4. Proof of Motive
Whenever a murderer kills a person who has knowledge of the murderer's other crimes, the murderer reaps the collateral benefit of preventing the victim from testifying at a later trial. Nevertheless, none of the cases that have permitted the use of the waiver doctrine to admit hearsay testimony have gone so far as to allow the admission of such testimony on this basis alone. Thus, the fact that a murder victim is not able to testify at trial is insufficient to invoke the waiver doctrine absent some showing that the victim was in fact cooperating with law enforcement authorities and was likely to have testified at trial and that these facts
B. Application of the Waiver Theory to this Case
Houlihan, Fitzgerald and Nardone argued to this Court that, even under the waiver theory proffered by the government, statements made to the police by George Sargent should not be admitted in evidence because (1) the murder of Sargent did not take place "on the eve of trial"; (2) the statements made by Sargent were insufficiently reliable; and (3) the government did not present sufficient evidence that Sargent was murdered for the purpose of preventing him from testifying at trial. These arguments will be addressed individually.
1. "On the Eve of Trial"
First, the defendants argued that the waiver doctrine requires that an indictment or trial be pending at the time of the killing such that it takes place "on the eve of trial." The defendants argued that no court has ever gone so far as to admit the statements of a deceased or otherwise unavailable witness under the waiver theory where there was not a trial or even a charge pending at the time the witness became unavailable. See Aguiar, 975 F.2d at 47 (one month prior to trial, witness backed out of testifying due to threats); United States v. Mastrangelo,
In this instance, Sargent's murder occurred in June of 1992, almost two and a half years before the trial commenced. Nevertheless, Sargent in fact had been cooperating with a police investigation of the Houlihan-Fitzgerald drug ring, in which law enforcement authorities were attempting to gather enough evidence to prosecute the defendants.
Additionally, although Houlihan, Fitzgerald, and Nardone may technically be correct that other courts to admit such testimony did so in cases where the murders occurred "on the eve of trial," none of the cases cited by the defendants attach any legal significance to this temporal fact. Certainly the cases cited above do not preclude the admission of statements taken by victims murdered earlier in the course of police investigation. Moreover, the position argued by the defendants is simply illogical. Indeed, the defendants' approach would require this Court to engage in a time-slicing exercise which would allow the admission of statements made by declarants killed "on the eve of trial" but not those made by declarants who had only recently agreed to cooperate with the government in a pending investigation and were murdered shortly thereafter. Such an approach would have the perverse effect of encouraging criminals to knock off suspected "rats" sooner rather than later to prevent the statements of the declarants from being used against them at a possible future trial. Therefore, the defendants' argument that there is no direct connection between the murder of Sargent and his unavailability at this trial fails as matter of fact, law, and logic.
2. Insufficient Reliability
Having failed to persuade the Court that the waiver theory may only be employed where the murder takes place "on the even of trial," Houlihan, Fitzgerald, and Nardone next argued that because the statements of Sargent were not made under oath, they are not reliable,
As a factual matter, the defendants were correct that most of the cases that have allowed such out of court declarations dealt either with cross-examined statements or with statements made under oath. Again, however, none of these courts have assigned any legal significance to such facts. Indeed, some courts have specifically held that once it has been determined that a defendant has waived his confrontation rights, even unsworn hearsay is admissible at trial. See Thai, 29 F.3d at 814 (statements to police admissible where defendant waived rights by procuring absence of witness); Aguiar, 975 F.2d at 47 (witness's unsworn and uncross-examined statements to police admissible where defendant procured witness' absence by threats); White, 838 F.Supp. at 625 (statements made by witness to patrolman and later memorialized in police reports admissible after finding of Sixth Amendment waiver). The Court thus found that the question of reliability is legally immaterial. Reliability was left to the jury.
3. "For the Purpose of" Preventing Witness from Testifying at Trial
Third, and most significantly, Houlihan, Fitzgerald, and Nardone argued that the government failed to present sufficient evidence that Sargent was killed "for the purpose of" silencing him. More specifically, they argued that the government had not proved by clear and convincing evidence (a) that Houlihan, Fitzgerald, and Nardone each participated in the conspiracy to kill Sargent and (b) that each of these defendants had as at least one of his motives the desire to stop Sargent from "ratting" to the authorities.
(a) What evidence did the government proffer to indicate that George Sargent was, in fact, killed as a result of such a conspiracy by Houlihan, Fitzgerald, and Nardone? With respect to Nardone's participation in the murder, the government proffered the testimony of Michael Nelson.
Moreover, the government proffered the testimony of Cheryl Ann Dillon, the former girlfriend of Joseph Nardone. Ms. Dillon testified that Nardone confessed his involvement in the Sargent homicide to her. See Trial Tr., Vol. 32, at 98-105. Dillon said Nardone claimed that Nelson was the "trigger man" while Nardone only drove the getaway
With respect to Houlihan and Fitzgerald's involvement in the Sargent homicide, the government proffered the following evidence: first, Michael Nelson testified that Houlihan and Fitzgerald wanted Sargent dead. See Trial Tr., Vol. 37, at 101; Vol. 36, at 101 (Nardone told Nelson that "John Houlihan and Fitzy ordered" Sargent's murder). Nelson also testified that Nardone recruited him to help him kill Sargent on behalf of "[t]he organization run by Michael Fitzgerald and John Houlihan about the cocaine business." See Trial Tr., Vol. 36, at 101. Moreover, Nelson testified that Nardone told him that Houlihan would pay them $5,000 if they shot Sargent. See Trial Tr., Vol. 36, at 111. Nelson further stated that he was, in fact, paid by John Houlihan via Nardone for his role in Sargent's death, at which point Nardone told Nelson that there would be more such jobs to come because "John and Fitzy [have] a list." See Trial Tr., Vol. 36, at 127. The government also offered Sargent's statements themselves to show that Sargent felt Houlihan might have been suspicious of him and might have been planning to kill him.
In light of this evidence, the Court found by clear and convincing evidence that Michael Fitzgerald, John Houlihan, and Joseph Nardone conspired to kill George Sargent.
(b) With respect to the evidence indicating that the defendants killed Sargent for the purpose of preventing him from testifying against them, the government marshalled the following evidence: first, the testimony of witnesses Pamela Flanagan,
In addition to the evidence in the official record, this Court considered the notes of the prosecuting attorneys taken at the time they
Although the Court was unable to find by clear and convincing evidence that Sargent was killed because he was talking, the Court did find by clear and convincing evidence that Sargent was killed either because he was talking or because John Houlihan feared that eventually he would talk. As indicated by his statements to Nelson, Nardone knew that this was Houlihan's motive for wanting Sargent killed. Regardless of Nardone's own intentions as a member of the conspiracy, knowledge of Houlihan's motive and a willingness to act on it equals a tacit adoption by Nardone of Houlihan's motive as his own.
Thus, with respect to the defendants Houlihan and Nardone, the government met its burden on both prongs of the Thevis test. The government demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence both that Houlihan ordered the defendant Nardone and the witness Nelson to kill Sargent at least in part to stop him from cooperating with the police, and that Nardone was aware of Houlihan's motive for ordering the hit. Upon these findings by clear and convincing evidence, the statements made by George Sargent to the police prior to his murder were held to be admissible against Houlihan and Nardone at trial.
The government's offer of proof with respect to Fitzgerald, however, was somewhat more complicated. Although the government did prove by clear and convincing evidence that Fitzgerald was a part of the conspiracy to kill George Sargent, the Court was not satisfied that the government's evidence was sufficiently clear and convincing to support a finding that Fitzgerald acted with the motive of silencing Sargent at a later trial. Indeed, one comment in the prosecutors' file gave the Court pause for concern. Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") Paul Kelly's handwritten notes of prior discussions with Nelson indicate that Nelson originally told AUSA Kelly that Michael Fitzgerald may have had a different motive for killing George Sargent than the one proffered by Nelson at trial. Indeed, Nelson appears to have told Kelly that George Sargent owed a large gambling debt to the "Murrays of Charlestown." At some point, according to Kelly's notes, Fitzgerald approached the Murrays and asked them to post bail for Bobby Levallee, another alleged foot-soldier in the Houlihan-Fitzgerald drug ring, who had recently been arrested. In consideration for posting bail, Fitzgerald offered to have Sargent killed. Kelly's notes state that, according to Nelson's original story, Fitzgerald wanted Sargent killed to "show respect for the Murrays."
Although it is not necessary that silencing of the declarant be the defendant's only motive for the killing, see supra n. 17, here the prosecutors' notes raise doubts as to whether the silencing of Sargent was one of Fitzgerald's motives at all. Kelly's notation that Fitzgerald wanted to kill Sargent "to show respect for the Murrays" casts doubt on Nelson's testimony that Fitzgerald wanted Sargent killed to silence him. No other evidence in the record indicates that procuring Sargent's silence was one of Fitzgerald's motives. Indeed, there is no evidence that Fitzgerald ever had knowledge of such a motive.
In Mastrangelo, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals stated that "[b]are knowledge of a plot to kill [a witness] and a failure to give warning to appropriate authorities is sufficient to constitute a waiver." 693 F.2d at 273-74. Without much elaboration, the Second Circuit seemed to indicate that even those members of a conspiracy who do not directly participate in the killing or who do not have direct knowledge of the purpose of the killing may nevertheless be held to have waived their constitutional and hearsay objections. Under this interpretation, a defendant such as Fitzgerald could be held to have waived his Sixth Amendment rights simply by being a part of a conspiracy to murder where one of the members of the conspiracy had the motive of silencing a witness. But see White, 838 F.Supp. at 618 ("[m]ere failure to prevent the murder, or mere participation in the alleged drug conspiracy at the heart of this case, must surely be insufficient to constitute
C. What Portions of the Sargent Statements were Admitted?
Adoption and application of the waiver theory, however, did not end this Court's analysis. Indeed, only portions of Sargent's statements were ever disclosed to the jury. Two principles guided the Court's determinations as to redaction.
First, all of the courts that have adopted the waiver analysis have held that admissibility is limited to such out-of-court statements as would have been competent and admissible evidence had the declarant been able to testify in person. See, e.g., White, 838 F.Supp. at 625. This Court followed this same limitation and redacted all portions of the Sargent statements which were not factual in nature and which were not grounded on Sargent's personal knowledge or did not constitute an admission or a statement of a co-conspirator. FED.R.EVID. 801(d)(2) & 801(d)(2)(E).
The Court then made a second pass through the Sargent statements to edit out all portions which either directly or through innuendo offended the teaching of Bruton v. United States,
In making this determination, the Court was guided by its discussions with the parties prior to trial. At that time, confronted by the government's motion to admit the Sargent statements, as well as the motions of certain defendants for severance, the Court and the parties thoroughly explored the implications of a broad reading of Bruton (a step that tends to maximize fairness for defendants) and a joint trial of as many counts as possible (a step that conserves scarce resources).
D. The Defense Response
Having exhausted their efforts to keep the Sargent statements from the jury, Houlihan and Nardone preserved their rights and, as was their prerogative, set sail on a strikingly different tack. They then claimed that the Court's editing unfairly bowdlerized the Sargent statements with the effect of making them more inculpatory of Houlihan than would otherwise be the case. Houlihan and Nardone thus sought to offer the Sargent tape recording in its entirety.
No doubt counsel for Fitzgerald and Herd held their breath at this point, ready to object had the government remained silent, since the full tape inculpates both Fitzgerald and Herd directly, by name, and in ways that offend the core values of Bruton even as explicated by Richardson v. Marsh,
The government first argued that, as the Court had already ruled that Houlihan and Nardone waived their rights to confront Sargent or raise hearsay objections to his testimony, they likewise waived any right to introduce additional portions of the Sargent statements. The Court disagreed. It is one thing to rule that a defendant has waived his rights to object to the admission of certain evidence. But the objection here implicated an entirely different set of values — including those undergirding the Compulsory Process Clause of the Constitution. Whatever Houlihan and Nardone may have done, they may not on that account be estopped from proffering competent, admissible evidence on their own behalf.
With that settled, Houlihan and Nardone resumed the offensive, arguing that, at least as to the portions of the Sargent tape originally proffered by the government but redacted by the Court, the government was itself now judicially estopped from objecting to their admissibility. Not so. The concept of judicial estoppel comes into play only where the government has obtained some advantage through its original position. See Desjardins v. Van Buren Community Hosp.,
Houlihan and Nardone then offered the remainder of the Sargent tape under FED. R.EVID. 106.
Houlihan and Nardone next offered the remainder of the Sargent tape under the innominate exception to Rule 804. FED. R.EVID. 804(b)(5). "Unavailability" under Rule 804, however, is defined to exclude circumstances where "absence is due to the procurement or wrongdoing of the proponent of a statement for the purpose of preventing the witness from attending or certifying" — a matter pointed out to me by my students in evidence class at Boston University School of Law. By its express terms, therefore, FED.
Houlihan and Nardone argued that the Court's findings of "clear and convincing" evidence — which findings are based in part on the Sargent tape (indeed on certain portions of the tape that are here most hotly disputed, see supra) — necessarily resulted in a finding of "circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness" which warranted admissibility under FED.R.EVID. 803(24). This logic is flawed. The Court found by clear and convincing evidence on the totality of the trial record before it at the moment of decision that Houlihan, Fitzgerald, and Nardone conspired together and carried out the murder of George Sargent. As the Court has been at pains to point out, see supra, it made no findings as to the reliability of Sargent. It was not required to. See Thai, 29 F.3d at 814; Aguiar, 975 F.2d at 47; White, 838 F.Supp. at 625. What is more, while certain discrete redacted portions of the Sargent tape may have been said to bear on material facts, FED.R.EVID. 803(24)(A), the tape was not "more probative on the point for which it [was] offered than any other evidence which the proponent[s] [could have] procure[d] through reasonable efforts," nor was it in "the interest of justice" to admit the remainder of the tape. FED.R.EVID. 803(24)(B). After all, had Houlihan and Nardone not orchestrated the murder of Sargent, he would have been available for cross-examination at trial.
During the taped interview, the following exchange occurred:
Trial Exh. 250; Memorandum of Law in Support of the Government's Motion in Limine to Admit the Statements of George Sargent ("Government's Br."); Exh. B, at 9-10; see also Trial Exh. 250 (tapes); Trial Exhs. KZ, LA (transcripts marked for identification). Houlihan and Nardone argued that this statement is relevant and exculpatory as it tends to point to Herd as the murderer of Boyden Sr., a conclusion that may suggest a reasonable doubt as to the government's theory that it was Nardone who carried out that murder.
The government objected.
The Court sustained the objection because — while the statement may be both relevant and exculpatory — it is inadmissible hearsay, FED.R.EVID. 802, offered through an out-of-court declarant as to whom there is no showing of personal knowledge of the facts asserted. In short, the Court found that Sargent was not a competent witness as to these matters. FED.R.EVID. 601.
The tape also records:
Government's Br., Exh. B, at 3-4.
Houlihan and Nardone argued that this is a statement against Fitzgerald's penal interest, FED.R.EVID. 804(b)(3).
Houlihan and Nardone, however, were not charged with killing Boyden Jr. Nevertheless, they argued that the statement was a crucial part of their defense to the charge that they had a hand in killing Sargent. For, they argued, once Fitzgerald had confessed to the murder of Boyden Jr. to Sargent, who but Fitzgerald would have had a greater motive for killing him once it became suspected that he was talking to the police? There is force to this argument, and the Court agreed that the statement was relevant.
Once again, the government objected.
The Court sustained the objection because, while "totem pole" hearsay is admissible if each "totem" on the "pole" qualifies as a hearsay exception, FED.R.EVID. 805, the communication from Sargent to the police which is the subject of the tape is an out-of-court declaration offered for the truth of the matter asserted, i.e., that Sargent was accurately and truthfully recounting what Fitzgerald had said. It is, therefore, inadmissible hearsay. FED.R.EVID. 802.
This is the statement that arguably came closest to admissibility under 803(24) and the Court carefully considered that issue. The Court rejected the proffer under that exception for the reasons already stated and notes that the circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness here run to the reliability of Fitzgerald's confession, not to the reliability of Sargent — caught with a large quantity of cocaine, flipped by the police, and seeking to curry favor as an informant — accurately perceiving and reliably reporting whatever it was that Fitzgerald said to him, if anything.
Failing in their multifaceted attempt to have the redacted portions of the tape admitted substantively, Houlihan and Nardone, noting that admission of the edited Sargent statements opens him up to impeachment in the manner of any live witness, FED.R.EVID. 806, argued that redacted portions of the tape ought to be admitted, not for the truth of the matters asserted, but as prior inconsistent statements. The Court rejected these proffers on the grounds that they were too convoluted, collateral, or cumulative to be admitted and because the Court had afforded adequate leeway to counsel to "cross-examine" Sargent's reliability through their cross-examination of the police witnesses attesting to the statements. Cf. United States v. Ovalle-Marquez,
It is for these reasons that the Court handled the Sargent statements as it did.
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