United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant Justin Michael Wilson’s
Motion for a New Trial. ECF No. 87. For the following
reasons, the Court DENIES the motion.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
10, 2018, Defendant was charged in a five-count Indictment.
ECF No. 1. Count One charged Defendant with Carjacking in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119. Count Two charged him
with Using, Carrying, or Brandishing a Firearm during and in
relation to a Crime of Violence in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 924(c)(1)(A) and (B)(ii). Count Three charged him with
Possession of a Firearm not Registered in the National
Firearms Registration and Transfer Record in violation of 26
U.S.C. §§ 5861(d) and 5871. Count Four charged him
with Possessing a Stolen Firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 922(j) and 924(a)(2). Finally, Count Five
charged him with Possession of a Machinegun in violation of
18 U.S.C. §§ 922(o) and 924(a)(2). On May 6, 2019,
Defendant pled guilty without an agreement to Counts Three
and Five. After waiving his right to a jury trial, Defendant
proceeded to a one-day bench trial on the remaining counts on
May 7, 2019.
to the start of the bench trial, the United States
Attorney’s Office informed the Court, Defendant, and
his counsel that one of its witnesses, Frenchesca Pennington,
admitted for the first time that morning that she provided a
false statement about Defendant stealing the machinegun. As a
result, the United States made an oral motion to dismiss
Count Four. The Court granted the motion, and the bench trial
proceeded on Count One for Carjacking and Count Two for
Using, Carrying, or Brandishing a Firearm during and in
relation to a Crime of Violence.
bench trial, the United States introduced evidence that on
January 11, 2018, Defendant went on a crime spree spanning
four counties in West Virginia. The day began with Defendant
stealing a Ford Expedition in Jackson County. He then traveled
to Mason County and acquired an illegal AR-15 machinegun from
Ms. Pennington. From there, Defendant drove to Kanawha
County, where he was observed in the stolen Expedition by
Chief Deputy Greg Young of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s
Department. A police chase ensued, with Defendant driving off
the road and parallel to railroad tracks at approximately 30
to 40 miles per hour. As the area along the tracks was
covered with large gravel, Chief Deputy Young was unable to
keep up, and Defendant ultimately jumped the tracks and got
evading Chief Deputy Young, Defendant made it to Interstate
64 and traveled westbound to Putnam County, stopping at an
Advance Auto Parts in the Liberty Square shopping plaza just
off the Teays Valley exit. Justin Clark testified that he was
working on his mother’s truck near the side of the
Advance Auto Parts’ building when Defendant approached
him. Mr. Clark said that Defendant asked him if he wanted to
get rid of the truck, but Mr. Clark responded
“no” because it was his not his. Defendant then
opened the driver’s side door of the truck and looked
inside. Mr. Clark, who was working underneath the truck,
stood up, pulled the door shut, and stood in front of him.
According to Mr. Clark, Defendant initially was friendly, but
the conversation then took a more serious tone. Defendant
told him that he was an ex-Marine, had a fully automatic
weapon, and was running from the law. Defendant demanded the
key from Mr. Clark, but Mr. Clark pretended he did not have
it and said the key were inside the store on the counter.
Defendant also asked for Mr. Clark’s phone, but Mr.
Clark said no. Mr. Clark then went inside the store
purportedly to get the key. Defendant told him not to call
the police because he did not “want to have to shoot
this place up. Just get me the key.” Tr. 74, ECF No.
82. Mr. Clark said he entered the store through the side, and
he had the manager lock the door. Mr. Clark called 911. Mr.
Clark said he was in the store for about two minutes when
Defendant drove the Expedition around the front of the
drove to another part of the shopping plaza where he
encountered Matt Francisco and John Thaxton. Messrs.
Francisco and Thaxton worked for the Putnam Public Service
District (PSD) and were on a lunch break. Mr. Thaxton was
eating inside a PSD truck, while Mr. Francisco was smoking
outside the truck. When Defendant drove up, he stopped in
front of them and blocked the road.
Francisco testified that Defendant got out of the Expedition
and told them “it was our lucky day.”
Id. at 80. Mr. Francisco said Defendant turned as if
he was going to get in his vehicle but, instead, he turned
back around and faced him with the AR in his hands. Mr.
Francisco testified that Defendant said they had “two
choices. We could either help him unload the stuff out of
[Defendant’s] vehicle and put it in our work truck, or
we could die.” Id. at 82.
Defendant’s command, Mr. Francisco said he began taking
the things out of the Expedition and putting them in the PSD
truck. While he and Mr. Thaxton were moving the items, he
said Defendant was rummaging around on the passenger side of
the vehicle. Mr. Francisco said he thought they were finished
when they had moved the things from the back seat, but
Defendant then opened the hatchback, snapped his fingers, and
motioned with the gun for them to move the things out of the
back. Mr. Francisco estimated that it took three or four
minutes to move all the items.
then asked where the keys were, and Mr. Francisco told him
they were in the ignition. However, Mr. Francisco testified
he thinks Defendant misunderstood him because Defendant then
“stood up and raised his voice a little bit and said,
where are the keys to the vehicle? Do I need to come and get
them or are you going to give them to me?” Id.
at 85. Although Mr. Francisco testified at the bench trial he
could not recall where the gun was when Defendant asked for
the keys, he told the grand jury Defendant raised the gun to
his [Mr. Francisco’s] chest. Mr. Francisco testified that
he believed he was being threatened by Defendant during the
encounter, and he fully complied with Defendant’s
demands because he did not want to die.
Thaxton also testified at the bench trial. Mr. Thaxton
similarly said that, when Defendant stopped, he told them it
was their “lucky day and proceeded to pull an AR out
and point it at [them] and tell [them] that [they were] going
to help him unload the stuff out of the SUV into [the PSD]
truck or he was going to kill [them].” Id. at
20. Mr. Thaxton testified that he and Mr. Francisco then
started moving the items from the Expedition to the PSD
truck. He said Defendant put the machinegun in the front seat
of the Expedition while he helped them move some of the
things. Mr. Thaxton said Defendant offered him a beer, and he
told him “he had just blowed all of the state troopers
out of the water in Charleston.” Id. at 26.
After the backseat was emptied, Defendant picked the
machinegun back up, went to the back of the vehicle and
waived it, motioning for them to come to the back and unload
the remainder of the things.
Thaxton said that, after they finished moving the things,
Defendant put the machinegun down in the passenger side of
the PSD truck, stood beside the passenger side door, and
asked for the keys. Although Mr. Francisco told him the keys
were in the ignition, Mr. Thaxton also stated Defendant must
have misunderstood or did not hear him because “he kind
of stepped up and forcefully said, are you going to give them
to me or am I going to have to take them?” Id.
at 31. When asked what he meant when he said Defendant
“stepped up,” Mr. Thaxton explained Defendant
“stepped toward [them] and kind of, ah, swelled up kind
of like he was going to – you know, squared up with us
or – you know,” like he was ready to get in a
fight, and he spoke in a “stern” voice.
Id. at 31-32. At that point, Mr. Thaxton said Mr.
Francisco repeated that the keys were in the ignition. Mr.
Thaxton said he believed that if they did not give Defendant
the keys, he “was going to take them any way he had
to.” Id. at 32.
Defendant realized the keys were in the truck, Mr. Thaxton
testified that Defendant got in the truck. Although he was
scared, Mr. Thaxton said he walked up to the side of the
truck and asked for his wallet and Mr. Francisco’s
phone. Defendant replied “no problem. I’m not a
thief” and gave him the items. Id. at 33.
Defendant then pulled away. The police arrived right after
Defendant left, and Mr. Thaxton told the officer that he just
stole the truck.
bench trial, the United States also called West Virginia
State Police Officer Justin Garren to testify. Trooper Garren
stated he received a BOLO about the stolen Expedition. He said he
was looking for it on Interstate 64, when he received
information about an attempted armed carjacking at the
Liberty Square shopping plaza, which was about one mile from
where he was. As Trooper Garren was driving to the scene, he
received information about a second possible carjacking. When
he arrived, he noticed a truck pulling away and a man waving
him down and pointing toward the truck. Trooper ...