Judge: Feds Shouldn't Seek Death Penalty
Thursday, January 25, 2007; 5:38 PM
NEW YORK -- A judge at the federal murder conspiracy trial of a crack kingpin with ties to the rap music industry warned prosecutors that pursuing a death sentence would be a waste of time and money.
"There's no chance in the world there would be a death penalty verdict in this case," U.S. District Judge Frederic Block said.
"If I'm wrong, I will have egg on my face," the Brooklyn judge said Wednesday while jurors were on a break amid closing arguments in the guilt phase at the trial of Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff. "But I will not be incorrect."
Block advised prosecutors to contact their superiors in Washington and ask them to reconsider their decision to seek a death sentence. Even if McGriff is convicted in a contract killing conspiracy, going forward with a penalty phase would be pointless, he said.
"There's just no chance that 12 jurors will vote for the death penalty in this case, and I think it is good for us to save money, if we can do that, and judicial resources," he said.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.
The jury deliberated briefly Thursday afternoon without reaching a verdict. It was to resume Friday morning.
In the 1980s, McGriff founded the Supreme Team, a profitable and ruthless drug crew that became legend on the same Queens streets that later produced rap stars such as Ja Rule and 50 Cent. Authorities allege that after serving time for a drug conviction, McGriff resumed his drug dealing operations and paid $50,000 to have two rivals killed.
His lawyer said that McGriff sought to turn his life around by producing music and movies with the help of Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo, a neighborhood friend who headed the successful Murder Inc. record label. At a trial last year, prosecutors had alleged Lorenzo laundered more than $1 million in McGriff's drug proceeds through the label; Lorenzo was acquitted.
McGriff produced a straight-to-video film, "Crime Partners 2000" that featured Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T. The movie, about two hit men, was released in 2001.