A trio of veteran defense lawyers today took turns assaulting the government's case against a band of alleged rogue cops.
Jack McMahon got the party started by describing the government's star witness, former Police Officer Jeffrey Walker, as a "wicked, despicable liar." The rest of the government's stable of witnesses, McMahon said, are a bunch of lying drug dealers who amount to "nineteen bags of trash."
To cap the day, Jimmy Binns, batting third in a lineup of six defense lawyers, described the government's case as "nineteen mutts and a dirty cop."
In the longest opening argument of the day, Binns spent two hours delivering a lengthy, eye-popping recitation of the numerous witnesses in the case that the government supposedly never got around to interviewing. Those witnesses that Binns said would be testifying on behalf of the defendants include a bunch of supervisors in the police department who allegedly were eyewitnesses to many of the incidents in the case, and a couple of young female bartenders who supposedly overheard nightly confessions from a drunken and drooling Officer Walker, before he passed out.
Most astonishingly, Binns said, the defense plans to call as their witnesses a trio of federal TFOs -- task force operators who work alongside the feds who investigated this case, on the same floor of the office building they share, but somehow were never interviewed by the government.
"This is not a proud day for the Department of Justice," Binns told the jury.
No wonder relatives of the defendants in the courtroom were overheard making cracks about some of the feds having to call in sick tomorrow.
Opening day in the rogue cops case began shortly after 10 a.m. when Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek told jurors that even drug dealers can be victims of crime if the items seized are not "yours to take," according to Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press.
The armed defendants, the prosecutor charged, routinely broke into homes without search warrants and ransacked them to steal drugs, cash, a Rolex watch and other valuables, the AP reported.
"These are men sworn to uphold the law but instead broke it," Wzorek told the jury, according to the AP.
It would have been nice to hear Wzorek's hour-long opening argument first hand but your intrepid Big Trial correspondent was prevented from entering the courtroom today, along with reporters from KYW and Reuters, and numerous would-be spectators.
Federal employees operating a metal detector outside Courtroom 15A said the courtroom was packed, and that nobody else would be allowed in. During a break, however, the trio of reporters gained access to the courtroom, along with several waiting spectators. And what did they discover? That according to numerous witnesses, the feds had kept the front two rows of the courtroom empty because those seats were reserved for lawyers and federal agents.
In a small courtroom with only five rows that might be a problem. Not even family members of the defendants were allowed to sit in the first two rows of the courtroom because of the reserved seating that was sparsely used throughout the day.
Among the spectators who did get into the courtroom was John McNesby, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said to be a staunch supporter of the narcs.
Federal prosecutors have charged six former members of the city's Narcotics Field Unit in a 26-count racketeering indictment with beating and robbing drug dealers of more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and personal property, as well as falsifying police reports to cover their tracks.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has described of the RICO indictment against his six former narcs as "one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever heard."
After today's opener, Ramsey might be rethinking that.
The government's star witness, former narcotics Officer Jeffrey Walker, began cooperating with the feds after he got caught red-handed on camera in an FBI sting planting drugs in a suspect's car and stealing $15,000.
That's when Officer Walker started telling the feds stories about how his fellow narcs were allegedly routinely beating and robbing drug dealers, including one incident where the cops supposedly dangled one drug dealer from a high-rise balcony. Walker described another incident where narcs allegedly stole a safe containing $80,000 and carried it down 17 flights of stairs.
Wzorek got an hour to make his opening statement. Then the six defense lawyers in the case began divvying up nearly six hours of time to make their opening statements.
Veteran defense lawyer Jack McMahon, the defense lawyer for former Officer Brian Reynolds, was the leadoff hitter, with 90 minutes. He told the jury they were about to begin "a long trip and a journey" through the murky drug underwood.
Officer Reynolds, McMahon said, was an active, aggressive cop was always "going into neighborhoods that you and I wouldn't go into."
Drug dealers, McMahon explained, don't usually like the cops who put them away and take away their drugs, guns and money. That's why it's not hard to round up a bunch of them when the feds are looking for witnesses to testify against the narcs, the defense lawyer said.
"These are people who are deceivers from day one," McMahon said about the government's lineup of witnesses. "They turned over rocks and got 19 people to walk into this courtroom."
"Nineteen bags of trash," he said, only make "a huge pile of trash."
If that's what they did in just 19 cases, McMahon said, imagine what kind of a dent they were making city-wide on the drug trade. No wonder the drug dealers were lining up to testify against them.
"We're going to show you a shocking investigation by the U.S. government," McMahon promised the jury. "The government has shown an outright gullibility" when it comes to disreputable witnesses, he said.
The government had an obligation to "verify and corroborate" every charge the drug dealers made, McMahon told the jury. Instead, the government just bought what they ever were selling, the defense lawyer said.
The stories the drug dealers tell, McMahon said, make no sense. Like the drug dealer who had $80,000 supposedly sitting in a safe stolen by the narcs.
"How many of you have got $80,000 in your house," McMahon asked the jurors.
Another drug dealer in the case claimed the money he was saving up for his kid's college tuition was supposedly stolen by the narcs. Another drug dealer claimed he got $18,000 in a worker's compensation settlement before it was stolen by the cops.
In each case, McMahon charged, the feds have no paperwork to back up these stories, except the words of drug dealers.
Then there's the drug dealer who claimed the cops made off with $50,000 that he supposedly socked away while working at a gas station.
"We should all apply to that gas station," McMahon cracked.
McMahon brought up Javier Blanco, the drug dealer who claimed he was kidnapped by the cops after he was caught with 234 grams of heroin, $6,900 in cash and an AK-47 assault rifle.
While he was allegedly kidnapped, McMahon said, Blanco volunteered to become a cooperating witness. While in captivity, McMahon said, the drug dealer shot pool and drank beer with his alleged captors. Can anybody be gullible enough to believe these stories?
The feds expect former Officer Walker, that "narcissistic, amoral creep," McMahon said, to be able to wave a magic wand and turn 19 bags of trash into gold. It ain't gonna happen, the defense lawyer told the jury before sitting down.
Jeffrey Miller had an hour to make his opening statement on behalf of former Officer Thomas Liciardello, the alleged ringleader of the gang who's still being held in solitary confinement while the other defendants are out on bail.
Miller described his client as a "highly decorated, very distinguished police officer" whose wife and father are cops.
Miller talked about the failed sting operations that the government set up to try and ensure the narcs. The feds had an FBI agent posing as a drug dealer with $8,600 planted in his car. The car was wired for sound. The feds had a helicopter flying overhead, Miller said.
And what did the feds record? The narcs turning over every cent.
"It exploded in their face," Miller said of the failed sting operation.
Jimmy Binns, the defense lawyer for former Officer Michael Spicer, told the jury that his guy was a 19-year veteran who was "not guilty of one single crime in this indictment, I can assure you of that."
The feds, Binns said, have had eight years to investigate this case. The defense lawyers have had only eight months.
"He is the quintessential liar," Binns explained.
When Officer Walker got caught in a sting operation, Binns told the jury, his first words caught on tape were, "You feds you got me good . . . I did it with a gun."
But the stories Walker told don't add up, Binns said. Take the story about the narcs running off with the safe with $80,000 in it.
"Walker says it was $30,000" in the safe, Binns said. Either somebody's missing "50 large," as Binns put it, or Walker is a liar. Also one federal witness said the safe was bolted down, another witness said the officers carried it out of an apartment and down 17 flights of stairs.
Which is it? Either way, one federal witness has perjured himself, Binns told the jury. He added that his money's on Walker.
"Willful blindness" was how Binns described the government's reliance on its motley crew of witnesses. "Polluted sources," Binns said.
Walker, he said, is a "dirty cop." And wait till you hear him talk, Binns told the jurors. "He'll make the other 19 [witnesses in the case] look like choirboys."
Three times while Binns was giving his summation, prosecutor Wzorek raised objections to the judge. In some lawyerly circles, this is considered bush league.
Maybe the judge thought so too. After three sidebar discussions where the prosecutor appeared to get nowhere, Binns blithely continued with his assault on the government's case.
Binns told the jury he's been a trial lawyer for 50 years. And this is the first case he's ever been involved in, he said, where jurors will find out what key witnesses have to say at the exact same time the feds do. Because the feds never bothered to interview so many key witnesses in the case, Bins said as he went through many of the episodes of alleged police misconduct.
Those uninterviewed witnesses include police lieutenants and sergeants and other supervisors of the narcs who were actually on the scene during many of the alleged episodes laid out in the indictment. These supervisors were eyewitnesses, Binns said, and the government never bothered to interview any of them.
Many times, Binns said, Officer Walker accused some of these supervisors of being dirty cops and the feds never bothered to find out if any of it was true. Well, we're bringing in those supervisors to testify, Bins told the jury. And you'll hear first hand what these supervisors have to say.
"These were the go-to guys" in the city's war on drugs, Binns said of the defendants. "You're gonna hear it from their bosses."
They've had eight years to conduct their investigation, Binns said of the feds. And they have no wiretaps in their case. No body wires, no audio tapes, no surveillance tapes.
The grand jury testimony of the government's witnesses "is replete with perjury and they know it," Binns said of the feds.
So much of this case is fiction, the defense lawyer charged.
Like the cops allegedly dangling a drug dealer over a railing. Wait till you hear what the supervisors who were on the scene that day have to say, Binns told the jury.
"Nobody hung anybody over anything," Binns said.
And nobody kidnapped any drug dealers. Javier Blanco wanted to cooperate, Binns said. Do you think the narcs made the decision on their own to keep this guy holed up for a weekend in a hotel?
"He was a guest of the city of Philadelphia," Binns said of the drug dealer who was allegedly kidnapped. The hotel operation was run up through the entire chain of command of the police department, Binns told the jury. It was also approved by an assistant district attorney.
My client risks his life for 19 years and what does he get for a reward, Binns said. An arrest at 5:30 a.m. with a loaded gun pointed at his head.
This case, Binns told the jury, "doesn't pass the smell test."
But it has handed a bunch of drug dealers "a lottery ticket," he said.
Thanks to the feds, hundreds of cases have been dropped against drug dealers "who infect our children and grandchildren," Binns said. And now those drug dealers are planing to file civil suits against the police, so they can cash in on their lies, Binns told the jury.
But in this case, the defense lawyer predicted, it won't take long for the jury to decide that all the defendants are not guilty.
The case resumes at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow with three final and supposedly brief opening arguments from defense lawyers, followed by the testimony of the first prosecution witnesses.