Kirkland Crist Morris acknowledged he was a member of the violent Bloods street gang. But he said his role in a 2009 assault doesn't constitute "criminal gang participation" because on that night he wasn't fighting with the Bloods, he was fighting with a bunch of rival Crips.
The Virginia Court of Appeals this week disagreed, upholding Morris' conviction on gang charges.
In an unusual case that seemed to stretch intuitive understanding of gang protocol, court papers detail how Morris, now 21, was boasting of his own "gang missions" at a Henrico County party with rival gang members when a leader of the local Crips sect ordered him to join in a random attack with other Crips. The attack was planned so that one of the men could improve his "status in the gang," according to court documents.
At about 1:15 a.m. Feb. 22, Morris and three other men saw two men and a woman walking through the Nottingham Green Apartments. Morris and three Crips members attacked the two men. The victims survived the beating, but one was taken to a hospital with facial and shoulder injuries. After the attack, Morris and the others fled in a car.
"We beat his ass," Morris said in the car, according to court documents.
Police arrested Morris, who was charged in August 2009 and convicted in the attack. But while he did not challenge convictions for assault or battery by a mob, he argued that his conviction for gang participation should be overturned because he identified with the Bloods and the beating was "Crips-related."
Morris argued in court documents that he was simply with the Crips and not "helping them" or "achieving any ranks" and that there was not enough evidence to prove that he was associated with the gang.
According to a three-page opinion handed down by the appeals court Tuesday, investigator D.C. Wood, a specialist on gangs in Virginia, testified at the trial to the well-known fact that Bloods and Crips are "basically rivals" and usually don't work together.
"However, he also explained that, although it would be unusual, a Blood could improve his rank in that gang by working with Crips," the appeals court opinion stated.
In fact, the opinion states that the Crips members who participated in the attack testified at Morris' trial that not only was Morris among them, but that "Crips and Bloods can be friends and they can work together."
The appeals court judges affirmed the ruling of the trial court, agreeing that on that particular night, Morris associated himself with Crips members in order to attack innocent individuals—"an intent shared by everyone in the group," Judge Randolph A. Beales wrote.
"The trial court certainly could infer from appellant's statement after the attacks, 'we beat his ass,' that appellant shared the same general objective as the Crips gang members in this group of men who joined in these attacks," Judge Beales wrote.
Morris's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
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