Originally created 11/28/01

RICO trial nears finale



The jury will begin deliberations today, deciding who was fooling whom in a massive RICO trial.

As the last defense attorney to speak to the Richmond County Superior Court jury, Ronald Coleman Jr.'s attorney, Robert Citronberg, hammered Tuesday on the credibility of David Easterling, who placed his client and Carlston W. Coleman at the scene of the June 21, 1998, abduction and robbery of Sam's Club Manager David Holt.

"It would be laughable if it was not so deadly serious," Mr. Citronberg said of Mr. Easterling's testimony.

On cross-examination, Mr. Easterling admitted he repeatedly lied in three statements to investigators - even falsely accusing Jarman Harold of being involved in Mr. Holt's slaying when that was impossible, Mr. Citronberg reminded the jury.

"Why is he putting on this show? He wanted to get out from under the death penalty in Columbia County," the defense attorney argued.

But District Attorney Danny Craig asked the jury to consider that it would be illogical for Mr. Easterling to tell investigators he was involved in another potential capital murder case when he was already facing a death penalty trial in Columbia County for the February 1998 robbery and slayings of Fred and Yong-Suk Walker.

"David Easterling was scared to death of these people," Mr. Craig said. That's why he falsely implicated Mr. Harold in the Holt case, Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Harold, 24; the two Mr. Colemans, who are not related; Kendric Dudley, 30; Ronnie B. Overton Jr., 22; and Charles D. Winters, 28, are each accused of violating the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law.

As the last attorney to argue to the jury, Mr. Craig said the six men took part in a criminal enterprise that operated in secret and enriched the defendants without labor. The enterprise members silenced those who stood in the way, such as 21-year-old Ryan J. Singh and 19-year-old Manuel B. Arroyo, who were found dead in the trunk of a burned car in Warren County in July 1997, Mr. Craig said.

The state's main witness in that part of the RICO indictment, Antonio Tillery, is a bad man, Mr. Craig conceded. But the jury heard three others reveal the same motive for the killings - Ronald Coleman and Mr. Winters were robbed of several thousand dollars they intended to use to buy marijuana the day before the killings, Mr. Craig argued.

Mr. Craig also asked the jury to consider it was not only Mr. Easterling who implicated Carlston Coleman in the Holt case. Two witnesses testified they heard him say he was involved, Mr. Craig said.

"(The defendants) fooled the IRS. They fooled the Richmond County Sheriff's Department stolen motor vehicle division. They fooled their own lawyers. And now they need to fool only 12 more people, you," Mr. Craig said.

But the prosecution's own evidence proves the six men could not have killed Mr. Arroyo and Mr. Singh, Mr. Citronberg argued. "The timeline doesn't work. Don't get caught in guesses."

And it didn't make sense to believe Mr. Easterling , who testified that he saw Ronald Coleman selling watches two days after Mr. Holt was killed, Mr. Citronberg said. The lawyer asked jurors why a man who had just pulled off a $62,000 robbery would need to sell watches.

"It's very seductive to fill in the gaps," Mr. Citronberg said of the prosecution's case. "It's not safe to assume. This case is not about innuendo; it's not about guesses. It's about these defendants."

The conspiracy, Mr. Craig argued, moved from the streets to the courthouse. Ronald Coleman's attorney filed notice that he would present an alibi but no witnesses were called, Mr. Craig said. Carlston Coleman's attorney said he would present additional hotel receipts but he never did, Mr. Craig said.

The defense argued to the jury that the accused have nothing they have to prove. That is the prosecution's burden, both sides told the jury. That mandate will also be included in the judge's instructions to the jury today.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.

What's Next: After receiving legal instructions from the judge this morning, the jury in the massive RICO trial will begin deliberations, two months after testimony in the case began.