Argued: May 10, 2018
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Gerald Bruce Lee,
District Judge. (1:14-cr-00306-GBL-2; 1:14-cr-00306-GBL-4;
Patrick Aquino, Springfield, Virginia; Christopher Bryan
Amolsch, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellants.
Douglas Tobler, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY,
Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
C. Amato, LAW OFFICE OF ELITA C. AMATO, Arlington, Virginia,
for Appellant Jesus Chavez.
Austin, LAW OFFICE OF AMY L. AUSTIN, PLLC, Richmond,
Virginia, for Appellant Alvin Benitez.
Salvato, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant Christian Cerna.
Jeffrey D. Zimmerman, JEFFREY ZIMMERMAN, PLLC, Alexandria,
Virginia, for Appellant Alvin Benitez.
L. Jenkins, Jr., BYNUM & JENKINS, PLLC, Alexandria,
Virginia, for Appellant Jose Torres.
Katherine Martell, FIRST POINT LAW GROUP, PC, Fairfax,
Virginia; Meredith M. Ralls, S&R LAW FIRM PLLC, Fairfax,
Virginia, for Appellant Omar Castillo.
William M. Chick, Jr., LAW OFFICES OF W. MICHAEL CHICK, JR.,
Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellant Manuel Guevara.
J. Boente, United States Attorney, Julia K. Martinez,
Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
WILKINSON, MOTZ, and KING, Circuit Judges.
WILKINSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE:
seven-week jury trial, the six defendants in this case were
each convicted of all the crimes with which they were
charged, including violent crimes in aid of racketeering. All
six appeal their convictions, raising a wide variety of
alleged deficiencies in the trial, including Brady
violations, failure to give certain jury instructions,
mistaken evidentiary rulings, and basic complaints about
having a joint trial, among others. As discussed below, we
reject each of these challenges, and affirm the convictions.
Alejandro Chavez, Alvin Benitez, Omar Castillo, Jose Torres,
Christian Cerna, and Manuel Guevara are members of the MS-13
gang. This case arises out of a series of violent crimes
committed by the gang during 2013 and 2014.
October 2013, defendant Torres and other MS-13 gang members
attempted to murder "Peligroso," a fellow gang
member who had broken MS-13's rules. Several days later,
gang members including defendants Torres and Castillo
murdered Nelson Omar Quintanilla Trujillo, an MS-13 member
who was suspected of being a government informant. Trujillo
was then buried in a shallow hole in a park, with gang
members later returning to move and rebury his body. In March
2014, defendants Castillo, Cerna, Benitez, and Guevara
murdered Gerson Adoni Martinez Aguilar for breaking MS-13
rules. Finally, on June 19, 2014, defendant Chavez murdered
Julio Urrutia for disrespecting MS-13.
2015, a grand jury indicted the six appellants and seven
other members of MS-13 for their involvement in these crimes.
Among other charges, each defendant was indicted for either
murder in aid of racketeering or conspiracy to commit murder
in aid of racketeering. The racketeering enterprise, as
alleged in the indictment, is the MS-13 organization. Six of
the indicted individuals pleaded guilty, while the other
seven proceeded to trial.[*] Five of those who pleaded
guilty cooperated with the government during the prosecution
and at trial.
a seven-week trial, a jury found each defendant guilty of
each charge against him. After sentencing, the defendants
filed this appeal, alleging that the government violated its
duties under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963),
and Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959). Certain
defendants also challenge their convictions based on alleged
deficiencies in the jury instructions, erroneous evidentiary
rulings, failure to grant severance motions, violations of
statutory rights to counsel, and insufficient evidence. Two
defendants also challenge their sentences on constitutional
grounds. We address each of these challenges in turn.
defendants first allege that the government violated its
Brady and Napue duties. Under
Brady, the "suppression by the prosecution of
evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due
process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to
punishment." 373 U.S. at 87. Relatedly, under
Napue, the government "may not knowingly use
false evidence, including false testimony, to obtain a
tainted conviction" or "allow it to go
uncorrected when it appears." 360 U.S. at 269. The
defendants assert that the government breached each of these
duties in its treatment of the testimony of Junior, an MS-13
member turned government cooperator.
addressing the defendants' arguments, additional
background on Junior's testimony and immigration
proceedings is necessary. During the government's
investigation of MS-13, Junior infiltrated the
defendants' "clique" within MS-13,
surreptitiously recorded telephone calls with the defendants,
and was eventually led by one of the defendants to the bodies
of two murder victims. At trial, Junior testified for the
government, explaining the contents of the recorded phone
calls and helping to establish the validity of the forensic
evidence obtained from the victims' bodies. Through his
cooperation, Junior gained significant immigration benefits,
including deferred action to allow him to stay in the United
States to continue his work with the FBI. Junior also applied
for and received a green card prior to trial in this case.
While the green card was largely obtained through regular
immigration proceedings rather than through prosecutorial
intervention, the FBI did write a letter to immigration
authorities on his behalf.
immigration benefits were extensively discussed at trial. At
one point, the prosecution asked Junior, "Did the FBI
have any involvement in your attempt to get the green
card?" J.A. 3682. Junior responded that the FBI wrote a
letter, but that "the letter was returned" and the
immigration judge "didn't get the letter." J.A.
3683. During cross-examination, Junior acknowledged that in
fact he did "show a letter to the judge when [he] was in
front of the judge" and the FBI's letter was thus
ultimately delivered by Junior personally. J.A. 4137-38.
direct examination of Junior but before the
cross-examination, defense counsel requested a subpoena duces
tecum to obtain Junior's immigration documents. Because
counsel acknowledged that his request was based solely on
"a feeling . . . that there's something in [the
immigration documents] that goes to truthfulness," J.A.
3830, the district court denied the request. After the trial,
the defendants moved for a new trial based on the
government's alleged failure to disclose exculpatory ...