Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments today in a monthlong federal racketeering trial that concluded testimony yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with defense attorneys calling just two witnesses.
None of the five defendants testified in the case, in which federal prosecutors say the men used Baltimore-area bars and other businesses as fronts for a violent, well-organized crime ring that was responsible for arsons, insurance fraud, drug dealing and witness tampering.
James E. Gross Sr., whom prosecutors called the group's leader, had indicated that he wanted to testify in his own defense. But Gross, 44, of Abingdon changed his mind after U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said prosecutors could question Gross about his conviction for raping a 12-year-old Baltimore girl in November 2000.
Jurors in the case have not heard any evidence about the rape case against Gross, who was accused of assaulting the girl at Strawberry's 5000, the now-closed Baltimore County nightclub that authorities said served as a base of operations for the crime ring. Gross pleaded guilty last April in state court to one count of second-degree rape.
In the racketeering case, federal prosecutors rested their case after presenting evidence during four weeks of testimony. The government's witnesses included Gross' longtime friend and former business partner, Louis W. Colvin, who had been charged in the case but pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against his former co-defendants.
Defense attorneys are expected to argue to the jury that Colvin was the mastermind behind any illegal activity and has wrongly pointed the finger at the other defendants to get a shorter prison sentence. Only one of the defendants, James D. "Turkey" Wilkes, called any witnesses yesterday.
Wilkes, 34, is accused of shooting Colvin at a downtown Baltimore dollar store in September 2001. The shooting occurred after Colvin's relationship with Gross broke down over a profit dispute at the men's last business venture, the nightclub Intellects, which Colvin testified he later operated under the name Emineo with former heavyweight boxing champion Hasim S. Rahman.
Wilkes' mother and a longtime girlfriend testified that Wilkes, who is left-handed, had limited use of his left hand at the time of the shooting because of a shoulder injury.