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United States v. Anastasio

United States District Court, W.D. New York

October 30, 2017




         Defendant Domenico Anastasio was convicted, after a jury trial, of one count of racketeering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) and two counts of murder in aid of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)[1]. The convictions were for conspiracy to participate in organized criminal activities of a violent street gang in Buffalo, New York, and for Defendant Anastasio's accessorial role in the April 17, 2006 racketeering murders of Brandon MacDonald and Darinell Young. Each of the two murder convictions carries a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1).

         Defendant Anastasio moves pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the jury's verdicts based primarily upon his argument that there was insufficient evidence for a rational jury to find him guilty as an accessory to the two racketeering murders. He challenges two special factors findings of murder made by the jury in relation to the RICO conspiracy on the same grounds.

         Defendant Anastasio moves in the alternative for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 33 based upon arguments that he was, at most, a mere knowing bystander during planning and preparation for the murders. The Defendant maintains that he did not intentionally aid the principals who committed the murders while intending that the principals commit acts of murder. The Defendant claims not only insufficient proof that he is guilty; he claims he is innocent.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court finds the jury's guilty verdicts were supported by legally-sufficient evidence, and were not a miscarriage of justice. Defendant Anastasio's motions pursuant to Rule 29 for a judgment of acquittal and pursuant to Rule 33 for a new trial are therefore denied.


         During a trial that last more than five weeks, evidence showed that Defendant Anastasio and the two co-defendants who were tried with him were associates and members of the 10th Street Gang, a violent street gang that operated on the Lower West Side of Buffalo. Members and associates of the Gang engaged in criminal activities that supported the Gang, including violence, threats of violence, and drug-trafficking. Members and associates were involved in Gang-related distribution of heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy.

         Primarily to protect territory that the 10th Street Gang claimed exclusively as its own for drug dealing, and to assert and maintain its relative standing in a loose hierarchy of local street gangs, members and associates of the Gang were involved in murders, attempted murders, and assaults. Members and associates of the Gang routinely possessed firearms during their criminal activities, and evidence showed that firearms were freely shared among Gang members.

         The territory of the 10th Street Gang was a neighborhood rife with poverty and violence. The evidence at trial showed that, like most street gangs, the Gang was, in the minds of its members and associates, only partly about crime. The Gang was for some more about social acceptance, support, excitement, and structures that were lacking elsewhere. The Gang held neighborhood parties. It offered a hierarchy of leadership and a clear path to gain approval and respect. One could “put in work” by fighting, committing crimes, or by making sacrifices for Gang members or for the Gang, to earn trust and to build a sense of belonging and higher status.

         The 10th Street Gang was a rival of other street gangs, and it had a longstanding violent rivalry with the 7th Street Gang, a similar neighborhood criminal gang which operated nearby on the Lower West Side of Buffalo. At times, deadly violence erupted between the 10th Street Gang and the 7th Street Gang. The murder victims in this case, Brandon MacDonald and Darinell Young, were murdered in the early-morning hours on April 17, 2006, because they were mistaken for associates of the 7th Street Gang by members and associates of the 10th Street Gang who were retaliating for an earlier mistaken-identity shooting by a 7th Street Gang member.

         Evidence during the trial established that Defendant Anastasio was a longtime associate and member of the 10th Street Gang. He conceded his life-long friendships with several admitted Gang members, but he maintained during trial and post-trial argument that the relationships were just friendships.

         There was testimony during the trial about Defendant Anastasio with firearms on several occasions at the 10th Street Park, near the intersection of 10th Street and Maryland Street, where Gang members sold drugs. On April 16, 2006, the Defendant was with a group of about 10 to 15 Gang members and associates about a block away from the Park, near West Avenue and Maryland Street, on their way to an afternoon barbecue. Among the Gang members who were present was Douglas Harville, a former member of the 7th Street Gang who had moved into 10th Street Gang territory and been accepted into the Gang. Robert Sanabria, a younger brother of Defendant Anastasio's co-defendant and fellow 10th Street Gang member, Jonathan Delgado, was also present; he was shot in the stomach and seriously injured during a drive-by shooting.

         After Robert Sanabria was loaded into an ambulance, Defendant Anastasio and others who had been at the shooting walked a short distance to gather at the 10th Street Park. They were afraid Sanabria might die. They were upset and angry about the shooting.

         Robert Sanabria later identified 7th Street Gang member Luis Medina as the person who shot him to the Buffalo Police Department. Others who were present, including Douglas Harville, immediately recognized Medina. The drive-by shooting of Sanabria by Medina was a case of mistaken identity: Medina meant to shoot a 10th Street Gang member who had recently been involved in an altercation with 7th Street Gang members outside a party. Sanabria had borrowed a New York Yankees jacket from that 10th Street member. Medina believed he was shooting the owner of the jacket in retaliation for the earlier incident when he shot Sanabria.

         The shooting of Robert Sanabria was the first time in long-running violence between the 7th Street Gang and the 10th Street Gang that 7th Street Gang members had crossed Niagara Street into 10th Street Gang territory to shoot a 10th Street Gang associate or member. As a result, the shooting had added significance as a challenge and an insult to the 10th Street Gang.

         Some of those who gathered at the 10th Street Park in the immediate aftermath of the shooting began to plan retaliation. Some ...

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