NEW YORK — Friends and family of 35 alleged gang members from the Grant and Manhattanville housing projects in west Harlem filled the courthouse today to watch the legal conclusion of what the Manhattan District Attorney called in June the largest gang raid in the city’s history.
But decisions never came, leaving families frustrated and suspects awaiting judgment amid hostile tension in jail.
“It’s more or less a dog and pony show,” said Taylonn Murphy, the father of a defendant.
The cases heard at the New York Supreme Court, Criminal Branch originated as part of a larger investigation that primarily focused on conspiracy charges produced from social media posts.
Ultimately the investigation resulted in more than 100 indictments, more than half of which were filed as conspiracy to commit murder. If successfully charged with conspiracy, the defendants would face mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life in prison, according to Judge Edward McLaughlin.
Defense lawyers continue to compile witnesses and evidence, causing the cases to grow more complex and the court to expand timetables.
“There is not going to be a decision made about the Facebook warrants today,” McLaughlin said from the bench.
Many of the defendants, who are ages 15 to 30, also face less serious charges ranging from gun possession to assault.
Some of the defendants think the district attorney’s evidence is too weak to convict them on the more severe conspiracy charges and consequently passed on plea bargains that would reduce their sentence.
To give defense lawyers more time, most of the 35 cases will be adjourned just before the Jan. 16 deadline to resolve the case or send it to trial.
“Most will be taken to trial. The DA’s case is pretty weak,” said Lauren Artese, an attorney for one of the defendants. “When you’re facing 15 to life for conspiracy to commit murder, you might as well take it to trial. There’s a pretty strong case against the prosecution, and even if you are convicted you can take it to the appeals court. They will not likely approve this kind of circumstantial evidence.”
However, even before all the cases could be heard and moved to a later date, a fight broke out between rival gang members in the court’s holding cell. That led to the clearing of the courtroom and postponed any further resolutions.
“It’s always better to hold separate arraignments for each side, this kind of stuff helps no one — especially the defendants,” Artese said.
Not only does this delay the process of finalizing cases, but for those involved in the fight, it could also result in another charge.
“This case will be going on for a long time,” Artese said. “Unfortunately that means some of these kids will be awaiting trial at Rikers [ISLAND] for months.”