After nearly 14 hours' deliberation over two days, a federal court jury tonight found crew leader Dennis Warren and an assistant, John Lester Harris, guilty of conspiring to hold migrant farm workers in involuntary servitude, resulting in the death of one man.
Warren, 19, of Orlando, Fla., and Harris, 39, of Bullock County, Ala., face possible sentences of life imprisonment for contributing to the death of worker Robert Lee Anderson while holding him as a slave. Anderson collapsed and died Sept. 13.
Warren also was convicted of two counts of holding workers Craig Conners, 32, and Harvey Rutherford, 43, in involuntary servitude. Harris also was found guilty of holding Conners and Rutherford as slaves and of abducting Raleigh pedestrian Joseph Simes, 50, for the purpose of carrying him into slavery.
Richard Warren, 22, Dennis Warren's brother, was found guilty of conspiracy to hold workers in slavery and of holding Rutherford against his will in Dennis Warren's employ.
"I hope the verdict signals to what we can call unscrupulous crew leaders that any time we find evidence that such violations are occurring we will vigorously prosecute," said Richard Roberts, the Justice Department coordinator for involuntary servitude complaints and one of the prosecutors.
Defense attorneys, who presented no witnesses during the four-day trial, refused to comment.
Men from four states had testified that they were beaten and threatened while under constant supervision of the Warrens, Harris and others to prevent their leaving Dennis Warren's camp at Rainbow Farms, about 45 miles east of Raleigh.
The workers said they were poorly fed, cheated of their wages and charged exorbitant rates for food, wine, beer and cigarettes. They worked from daybreak to dark, often seven days a week, and typical pay for two weeks' work, they testified, was $5.
Those who complained or worked too slowly harvesting sweet potatoes or cucumbers were beaten, the men testified.
Witnesses testified that Anderson arrived at the camp less than a week before he died looking sickly and wearing a hospital identification band on his wrist.
Conners, 32, said he told Dennis Warren the night before Anderson died that Anderson was spitting blood. Conners said that when Anderson tried to stay in bed the next morning "Dennis grabbed him by the collar and forced him to get on the bus."
Anderson vomited on the bus, and later asked to see a doctor, but was compelled to work, and collapsed in the 89-degree heat.
Defense attorneys acknowledged that the defendants were "too aggressive and too abusive" in their treatment of the workers, but attorney George Mast told the jury that no concerted attempt was made to hold workers in Dennis Warren's employ against their will.
"All we have here was a young man trying to make a living, 19 years old, and he made a mess of it," Mast said.