Six men face up to life in prison after they were found guilty of running a gang that trafficked in drugs and committed other crimes, including at least nine murders, in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
A federal district court jury of 12, who had been deliberating since Aug. 25, reached their verdicts just after 1 p.m. Thursday.
Despite not being found guilty on all counts, all six now face life in prison.
“Our thoughts are with the families of the victims,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Murray said outside the courthouse after the verdict. “We are grateful for these verdicts. This case demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to combating gang violence and violent crime.”
Murray added that officials will continue to aggressively prosecute gang members and gang leaders.
A jury in late August began deliberating the fate of the six men charged with a conspiracy to commit crimes that include nine homicides, drug trafficking, kidnapping and robberies in Manatee and Sarasota counties going as far back as at least 2006.
The six defendants were charged in a 28-count indictment, handed up in 2014, with crimes including conspiracy, firearms violations, robberies and kidnapping, as well as trafficking of heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
The six men convicted Thursday are:
▪ Charlie “Mr. 30N32” Green: found guilty of racketeering conspiracy including murder of Ceola Lazier, conspiracy to murder Brenton Coleman Sr., kidnapping, conspiracy to drug trafficking, murder of Joseph Evans, kidnapping, murder of Lazier, murder of Coleman.
▪ Jerry “Jerk” Green: found guilty of racketeering conspiracy including the conspiracy to murder and murder of Carlos Jurado, conspiracy to drug trafficking, murder of Lazier and murder of Jurado.
▪ Corey “James” Harris: found guilty of conspiracy to drug trafficking and pleaded guilty to distribution of crack during trial.
▪ Napoleon “Pole” “Mr. 760” Harris: found guilty of racketeering conspiracy including kidnapping of Calvin Barnes, conspiracy to drug trafficking, murder of Demetrius Cunningham, convicted felon in possession of ammunition.
▪ Nathaniel “Popo” “Lil Brown” Harris: found guilty of racketeering conspiracy including the kidnapping and murder of Barnes and murder of Cunningham, conspiracy to drug trafficking, murder of Cunningham, murder of Barnes, maintaining a drug house, use of a firearm to maintain a drug house, armed kidnapping, attempted murder, convicted felon in possession of ammunition, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and crack, use of a firearm to further drug crimes, convicted felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
▪ Deonte “Tang” Martin: found guilty of racketeering conspiracy including conspiracy to and murder of Coleman, conspiracy to drug trafficking, murder of Coleman, possession with intent to distribute crack, possession of a firearm to further drug trafficking and convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
The trial had been underway since June 6 in the federal courthouse in Tampa.
Tensions and emotions were high outside the courtroom on Thursday afternoon after families of both the defendants and the victims had rushed in hopes of watching the verdict. But the families, media and even some law enforcement officials were not allowed in after U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ordered the courtroom locked.
Tesha Lazier, 36, and Toquya Jones, 36, waited patiently outside the courtroom and later in the lobby of the courthouse, until they finally heard what they were waiting for. Both women smiled, hugged and then hugged prosecutors in the case.
“I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me,” Lazier said later. “I have been in a great mood ever since.”
Lazier’s cousins Ceola Lazier and Coleman were two of the murder victims, and she said two of her other cousins were also victims in the case.
“I feel like justice was definitely served ... even though some of them got off for some of the murders, they are serving life, and that’s all I can ask for,” Lazier said.
Lazier and Jones, Barnes’ sister, had grown to know one another throughout the trial, they said, since they saw each other daily.
When Jones got the call from her mother to say the jury had reached a verdict, her mother was already crying hysterically, she said.
They had been waiting for justice for a long time, and so she rushed right over.
Tensions had been high between families from each side right up until the end Thursday, with security having kept them separate throughout the trial.
Loved ones of the defendants also gathered downstairs, receiving the verdict from the defense. Many of them began to cry and afterward embraced.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, contacted at home Thursday evening, said he was happy with the outcome of the trial after all the investigative work that had gone into the case over the years.
“Hopefully, when the sentencing takes place these individuals will be removed from our community for a long time and maybe even life,” Steube said.
There were many key investigators who were critical in putting all the pieces of the case together, he said, including the work of the Homicide Investigative Unit and specifically mentioning the efforts of homicide detective Jeffrey Bliss, who was in the courthouse when the verdict was read.
U.S. Attorney Bentley said he was thankful justice was finally served for the families of the victims, in a statement included in a news release.
“These six individuals were part of a ruthless criminal enterprise that, for too long, preyed on the community by committing seven murders and countless other acts of violence. These men engaged in an escalating gang war, culminating with the public execution of Brenton Coleman during the first day of pee wee football in Bradenton,” Bentley stated. “We are grateful for the many community members who bravely came forward and testified, despite a systematic effort at witness intimidation.”
The case involved at least nine homicides committed between 2007 and 2013:
▪ Christopher Jenkins, 25
▪ Rodney D. “Hot Rod” Lamb and Erika Williams
▪ Joseph X. Evans, 18
▪ Demetrius “Meat” Cunningham
▪ Calvin “Forty” Barnes, 16
▪ Ceola D. “Bo” Lazier, 31,
▪ Carlos Alberto “Giggles” Jurado, 26
▪ Brenton Coleman Sr., 39
Celeste Evans, mother of Joseph Evans, told the Bradenton Herald in June 2014 when the indictment was handed up, all she ever wanted was justice for her son’s death.
She urged loved ones not to retaliate and to have faith in God and the sheriff’s office.
“This has been really hard for me, the hardest journey I’ve had to take,” Evans said then. “There is absolutely no reason for him to be dead.”