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Jury Found James Felton Guilty Of 2 Bronx Murders Now SDNY Berman Press Release

By Matthew Russell Lee, Periscope, Photos

SDNY COURTHOUSE, June 19 – In the culmination of the one week jury trial of James Felton, accused among other things of killing Marvin Harris on the corner of 175th Street and Monroe Avenue in The Bronx on June 11, 2016, the jury on June 19 delivered guilty verdicts on all twelve counts.

   Inner City Press asked Felton's defense lawyer if he will work on the sentencing submission. He replied that there is a mandatory minimum life sentence. Still, U.S. District Court for the Southern District Judge William H. Pauley III has set the sentencing for October 4.

  More than two hours after Inner City Press published its story on the verdict, this press release which we publish in full was issued: "Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JAMES FELTON was found guilty of the June 11, 2016, murder of Marvin Harris, whom FELTON shot 13 times, as well as the December 11, 2016, murder of Jose Morales, whom FELTON shot in the head.  FELTON was also found guilty of conspiring to distribute crack cocaine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, and related firearms offenses.  FELTON was convicted following a one-week trial before U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III.     U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “James Felton brutally executed two men on the streets of the Bronx as part of his efforts to control the drug trade in his community.  Now Felton stands convicted of his crimes.  We thank our partners at Homeland Security Investigations and the New York City Police Department for their extraordinary work on this case.”     According to the allegations in the Indictment and the evidence presented in court during the trial:

    Between 2010 and 2017, FELTON was a member of a long-running narcotics conspiracy and criminal enterprise centered around 240 East 175th Street in the Bronx, New York.  On June 11, 2016, at the corner of East 175th Street and Monroe Avenue in the Bronx, FELTON shot Marvin Harris 13 times, killing him, after Harris insulted FELTON and challenged FELTON’s status within the drug territory.  Six months later, at the corner of East 175th Street and Weeks Avenue, one block away from the scene of the Harris murder, FELTON shot rival drug dealer Edwin Romero four times, then shot Jose Morales in the head, killing him.     FELTON also committed other firearms offenses in connection with his membership in the drug conspiracy and criminal enterprise.    

 FELTON, 50, of the Bronx, was convicted of conspiring to distribute at least 280 grams of crack cocaine and quantities of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana; two counts of murder through use of a firearm; two counts of murder while engaged in a narcotics conspiracy; two counts of murder in aid of racketeering; using, carrying, possessing, brandishing, and discharging firearms in relation to a drug trafficking crime, on occasions other than the Harris and Morales murders; and four counts of possessing a firearm or ammunition after sustaining a felony conviction.  FELTON faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment plus an additional mandatory minimum sentence of 75 years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed.     

FELTON is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Pauley on October 4, 2019.     Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, and the New York City Police Department.     The case is being handled by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank Balsamello, Matthew Hellman, and Anden Chow are in charge of the prosecution."

  After the verdict was read out, guilty after guilty, James Felton looked back at a half dozen people in the gallery throughout the trial, and pointed at his heart. Judge Pauley said to him, It must be a difficult day for you. Then Judge Pauley went to speak with the jurors.

 Earlier on June 19, the jury passed out notes requesting a chart of drug sales, some of the video of the Harris murder, Ezekiel Burley's testimony on the Harris murder, and Facebook postings of defendant James Felton.

  Defense counsel had objected to the indictment being sent in to the jury, and wanted to make a Rule 29 motion. James Felton, smaller than both of his lawyers, glanced around at the Bronxites in the gallery. It was down to the small strokes.

Back on June 18 in the government's summation, Assistant US Attorney Frank J. Balsemello said that James Felton "is a cold blooded murderer." He described how James Felton provided muscle, or gun play, to allow his younger relatives to sell crack in 240 East 175th Street, adding that it was lucrative because it was so near the rehab center PROMESA -- who as Inner City Press long ago reported had its bookkeeper shot and killed on East Tremont Avenue.

  Balsemello's multi-media presentation used audio from prison phone calls ("you have one minute remaining") and pole camera footage of the whole gang dealing drugs to those PROMESA customers. The jury perked up at the complaints of a resident of 240, about having to go to work walking past all these guys - and a lone female, Ginger a/k/a George - dealing crack.

  The argument the government appears to be trying to fight off is that James Felton was somehow defending not only his drug turf but himself, or his son James Diaz a/k/a Chunky. Inner City Press will have more on this.

 On June 17, the fifth day of the trial, proceedings ended with Judge Pauley setting the rules for closing arguments. The government with get an hour and 45 minutes, then a 15 minute reply by Assistant US Attorney Matthew Hellman.

  The defense, which Judge Pauley said pointedly knows it can pace around the room, gets an hour and a half. The docket reflects that until right before trial, Ms Jean Barrett was going to be among James Felton's two lawyers. There's a longer story here, soon to be told.

Earlier on June 17 an NYPD Detective who arrested Felton at 2228 Adams Place testified how Felton's pinging cell phone led them there, and about the gun they found under a duffle bag a closet in Apartment Six David. But the monitors at the defense table, and in the jury box and gallery, did not work.

  Judge Pauley told the jury that back in the old days, lawyers used to hand out photographs of exhibits; the Assistant US Attorney instead held a copy out and walked slowly in front of the jury box while the NYPD detective described putting Felton's two phones back in his pocket for transfer to the 46th Precinct.

 There followed testimony about a number of short phone calls made on 11 December 2016 when Benny White (real name Jose Morales) was shot and killed - for which James Felton's son James Diaz a/k/a Chunky has already pled guilty, albeit requesting a ten year sentence. We'll have more on this.

 In the run-up to the trial James Felton's lawyer Lloyd Epstein told the government and
Judge Pauley that "we're dealing with a neighborhood here where people are talking about people getting killed, that in neighborhoods where some of us live, we might talk about how Johnny was accepted at Yale or, you know, generally is going on to social work school, but here, this is what people talk about."

  But Epstein's point at the final pre-trial conference on 22 February 2019, beyond trashing the Mount Hope neighborhood, was to try to exclude the introduction into evidence of some prison phone calls. He said, "They talk about the cookouts at Rikers Island, they talk about the NBA, they talk about getting sneakers for little kids." Yes, that too. Though it is not what is being heard in the SDNY trial. Watch this site.

 On June 14 cooperating witness Andre Felton described how James Felton told him he had shot Benny White, and how he took the two guns and threw them in a river. When James Felton returned from Massachusetts, Andre Felton let him stay in his apartment in 2228 Adams Place.

  The government put into evidence photographs of that apartment, with vacuum sealed bags for selling marijuana, a heroin spoon and bags, a digital scale and a gun (which Andre Felton showed to James Felton, offering that he could use it.)

  Andre Felton said that alongside selling drugs he was working as a concierge at a building in Manhattan - full time - until in a traffic stop he was found with 10 grams of cocaine. Now he is cooperating.

  The government said they may have another cooperating witness on Monday, and may close their case then or on Tuesday. The defense may recall witness Ezekiel Burley for some questions then put on a "short case" "probably" not including James Felton taking the stand.

  Judge Pauley said he will send them a draft jury charge later on June 14, and asked the government to submit a proposed jury form. Judge Pauley does not send the exhibits into the jury room but only a list, from which the jurors can make requests.

  Just before the jury was released for the weekend there was a sidebar and instruction. As the government asked Andre Felton about his offer to help get James Felton a lawyer, the defense asked to speak drowned out by white noise. Afterward Judge Pauley told the jury that James Felton's lawyers are court appointed and are paid by the United States. If there was any doubt.

  On June 13 another cooperating witness, Gonzalez, was cross examined about his question for a 5K letter from the prosecution and how far he would go to get out from under the otherwise applicable 45 year minimum sentence. Gonzalez sold crack in the area; when his testimony was over he was led back into the cell block by two US Marshals.

  The jury filed out and those in the gallery including Inner City Press, some neighborhood resident including one with a small child and some from the prosecutor's office were told to wait in the courtroom until they all went down on the elevator.

  In the lull Felton's lawyers argued for the admissibility for jailhouse recorded calls showing that Felton had gotten a construction job. Judge Pauley said he would think about it overnight, but that it seemed clear Felton knew he was being recorded, impacting reliability.

 Felton's lawyer said those on the call talked about "everything." Judge Pauley noted that they also sold drugs under the eye of multiple pole cameras. The trial will continue on Friday from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm then break for the weekend. Inner City Press has requested exhibits. Watch this site.

Earlier on June 13 the prosecution put on the witness stand a video expert who has enhanced and audio synched the videos, with the gunshots audible. A man already dying on the sidewalk was shot, again, and spasmed. The jury leaned forward. Next up was a witness from T-Mobile law enforcement relations, about responding to a warrant.

  It is not only emails and text messages that trip up today's defendants, as in the USA v. Ahuja and Shor trial across Pearl Street. Now there are so many surveillance cameras that shootings like this are captured from multiple angles, and can be enhanced. The jury can identify with those on the sidewalk running for cover.

 Overnight the prosecution wrote to Judge Pauley to suggest a jury instruction that "the death penalty is not a potential punishment for the defendant in this case." It's come to that.

 Back on June 12 there was the testimony by Ezekiel Burley, hoping for a 5K letter for cooperating, turned to the shooting of Benny White and another in December 2016 in the same neighborhood. The dispute about about who was robbing the drug sales workers.

A girlfriend was left to "clean up" the apartment of drugs and baggies and a gun, which Burley said he "threw in a lake by my house."

  Burley in early 2017 got shot himself in a barbershop on 175th and Morris Avenue. He was interviewed by police while on morphine, he told the jury. He told only what he thought they had on video. Later he proffered by only partially. Finally he told the prosecutors he gave the gun to Felton in June 2016. Now his faces life in prison - or as he said under the "new law," only 70 years. But he could get less for cooperation. What will the jury think?

  Felton's defense team later on June 12 asked Burley if Felton hadn't in fact tried to tell Chunky to reach a deal rather than fight, and hadn't had concerns beyond drug sales.

  This stood at odds with that Felton's lawyer Ms. Jean D. Barrett of Ruhnke & Barrett said at the final pre-trial conference on February 22, 2019, Transcript at 8, that "our understanding is that this is a neighborhood where people sell drugs, and there's a lot of violence in this neighborhood. This is what this neighborhood is like all the time... It's just what the neighborhood is and what everybody in the neighborhood is doing." Really? Inner City Press will continue to cover this trial, even without exhibits. See @InnerCityPress and the new @SDNYLIVE.


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