- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A federal judge has ruled that prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty against two D.C. men accused of running a violent street gang in Southeast because the government missed a key deadline.

U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts ruled that the Justice Department failed to file a timely notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Antwuan Ball and David Wilson. The judge’s opinion was issued late Tuesday and made public yesterday.

Mr. Ball and Mr. Wilson are awaiting trial on charges of murder, racketeering and drug trafficking after a joint investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department and the FBI of the so-called Congress Park Crew in Southeast.

In his ruling, Judge Roberts said the “government showed no cause, much less any good cause” for failing to file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty by a court-ordered Sept. 15 deadline.

Prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty Sept. 25. Citing the missed deadline, the judge barred capital punishment in the case Sept. 18.

One week later, prosecutors filed notice to seek the death penalty with a separate motion asking the judge to reconsider his Sept. 18 ruling.

The government attorneys blamed the delay on a misunderstanding about the deadline, the need for more deliberations and the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But Judge Roberts remained unconvinced.

“The government still has offered no explanation for how the anniversary of the September 11 attacks delayed this decision or anything else,” the judge wrote in Tuesday’s ruling. “It still has offered no reason why the Justice Department could not complete its assessment in the suggested five months I agreed to.”

It’s not clear whether prosecutors plan to appeal the ruling.

“We are currently reviewing our options but have no further comment at this time,” said Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In federal cases, the U.S. Attorney’s Office must seek approval to appeal a decision from the Solicitor General’s Office.

Attorneys for Mr. Ball declined to comment yesterday. Mr. Wilson’s attorneys said they were planning to travel to the D.C. Jail yesterday to give their client a copy of the judge’s ruling.

“We expected this. We’re not surprised the judge was going to uphold his previous ruling,” attorney Cynthia Katkish said. “We’re all very happy.”

The judge’s ruling marks the second setback for prosecutors involving a capital case in the District in recent months.

In August, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle threw out key statements by three men charged in the killing of U.S. tourists in Uganda in 1999. The judge said that the government couldn’t prove the defendants were not tortured during their capture in Rwanda.

The only other capital-murder defendant awaiting trial in the District is Larry Gooch, whom authorities have called an enforcer for the M Street drug gang in Northeast.

Mr. Gooch, who is charged in five killings, has pleaded not guilty.

Only two capital-murder cases have gone to trial in the District, and each resulted in the defendants’ receiving life in prison.

Capital punishment is banned in the District, although it can be sought in federal cases.

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