M Street Crew forced to keep guilty pleas

Three members of a violent D.C. street gang have been denied in their requests to withdraw their guilty pleas, a ruling that will likely avert another long, costly racketeering trial in the District involving the M Street Crew.

Jonte Robinson, Kenneth Dodd and Tommie Dorsey changed their minds after pleading guilty during jury selection in January to conspiracy, drug and gun charges.

A fourth defendant, Larry Gooch, went to trial facing the death penalty. He was convicted and will likely receive life in prison when sentenced next month after a jury rejected the death penalty.

The four men belonged the M Street Crew, a violent PCP ring that operated an open-air drug market in a neighborhood bordering the National Arboretum in Northeast. Authorities said the gang killed competitors and those suspected of cooperating with the police.

Pleading their innocence and arguing that they were coerced into guilty pleas, Robinson, Dodd and Dorsey recently sought to invalidate their plea agreements, which called for each man to receive 25 years in prison.

But U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer rejected their motion in a 13-page ruling released Thursday.

“To now allow these defendants to withdraw their pleas and require the prosecutors to try the same case a third time — based on faulty assertions of coercion and innocence — would be extremely prejudicial to the interest of the United States and the people of Washington D.C.,” Judge Collyer wrote in the opinion.

The judge also wrote she viewed the defendants’ claims of innocence with “skepticism.”

“Incredulity aside, these defendants have provided nothing on which the court might assess the validity of their claims of innocence,” the judge wrote.

The question of whether the three men would be allowed to rescind their guilty pleas raised the possibility of the third, five-month-long trial in federal court involving the M Street Crew in recent years. More than 30 members of the gang have been convicted, including kingpin John L. Franklin, who is serving life in prison.

Under a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Robinson, Dodd and Dorsey entered into a “wired” plea agreement, meaning that if one pulled out, then the deal for the others would fall apart.

The idea for the wired deal was that if all three men pleaded guilty and opted not to go to trial, prosecutors then could focus their attention on Gooch, the only capital defendant in the case.

But if just one of Gooch’s co-defendants insisted on going to trial alongside Gooch before the same jury, the prosecution would have to expand their presentation of case.

“If fewer than all three of the non-death eligible defendants pled out, the trial would not be markedly reduced and a complete prosecutorial effort would be required” the judge wrote.

“Presumably for these sorts of reasons, the United States was willing to enter a very last-minute plea agreement but only if all three non-death eligible defendants agreed,” the judge wrote. “Therefore, the plea was ‘wired”: they all had to agree or no one got the deal.”

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