Alleged leaders of the Bloods gang are on trial in Charlotte. Who they are in 60 seconds.
In a last-minute effort to sway his jury, the purported godfather of a notorious East Coast gang wrote in a letter that he had been the victim of a tricked-up government prosecution straight out of "a Grimm brothers fairy tale book."
"The prosecution's case is all smoke and mirrors to dupe and deceive the good citizens of North Carolina and waste their tax payers' dollars," Pedro "Magoo" Gutierrez wrote in a letter addressed to Observer readers.
"Good citizens ... I ask that you hold the government accountable for this travesty of justice against these defendants ... and that they be found not guilty."
The 12 good citizens on Gutierrez' jury did not follow his instructions. After a full day of deliberations, the alleged head of United Blood Nation was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy.
Two other defendants, including a New York state prison inmate who the government says is Gutierrez' top lieutenant, were also convicted of the same charge.
Sentencing by U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney of Charlotte will come at a later date.
"We have a message for the UBN and all other criminal organizations: We are coming for you," U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray said after the verdicts. "Person by person, set by set, clique by clique, and leader by leader. You are in our sights."
The close of the two-week trial drew strikingly different reactions from opposite sides of the Charlotte courtroom. Prosecutors and FBI agents shook hands, hugged and pounded each other on the backs.
But as the guilty verdicts were announced, the daughter of defendant Cynthia "Lady Bynt" Gilmore of Raleigh buried her face in her hands and began crying. A bailiff told her to leave.
As the courtroom door closed behind her, Gilmore's daughter broke down into a series of howling sobs that echoed throughout the courthouse as she was led away by a friend.
Exactly one year before their convictions, Gutierrez, Gilmore and James "Grown" Baxton were among 83 purported members of the United Blood Nation named in a sweeping federal indictment.
Gutierrez, 45, and Baxton, 44, both New York state inmates, were accused of running a 15,000-member crime syndicate from inside their prisons that sold drugs and firearms, dabbled in identity theft and other white-collar crimes, and meted out violence ranging from extortion to murder.
Prosecutors and the FBI said Gilmore, 42, a mother of five, served as a vital part of the chain of command, making numerous trips to visit her co-defendants to discuss gang business while also funneling money to both imprisoned gang leaders.
Thirty-five other alleged gang members named in the indictment have pleaded guilty to an array of charges.
In Gutierrez's three-page, hand-printed letter — a photocopy was emailed to the Observer on Thursday morning and later confirmed as authentic by Gutierrez's attorney — the alleged crime boss said the government's accusations were part of a "sensational and fictionalized narrative ... the 'Godfather' of Bloods, allegedly running a faction of the 'gang' in Charlotte from a New York prison cell."
During closing arguments Wednesday, Gutierrez’s lawyer echoed his client’s argument
Appearing powerful benefited Gutierrez in prison, attorney Brett Wentz said. But he was in “special housing” with extra supervision, no phone calls and limited visits for the majority of his years in prison, he said. So, Wentz asked, how could he have done what the government said he did?
Gutierrez said prosecutors had not shown the jury a single victim of crime from the alleged conspiracy. "The good citizens of North Carolina are left to ponder while scratching their heads ... A conspiracy against what or whom?" he wrote.
Gutierrez, who was imprisoned in New York on a murder charge at the time of the most recent indictment, said the Charlotte jurors never heard that "Cynthia Gilmore is a wife and a mother of five ... and that Mr. Baxton and Mr. Gutierrez have been in their child's lives being good fathers despite being in prison."
"The government attempts to strip these defendants of their humanity and make them out to be monsters," he wrote.
He accused prosecutors of using "scare tactics" by insisting that an anonymous jury hear the trial of the three gang leaders — "thereby denying the defendants ... the fundamental right of a fair and impartial jury."
In his letter, Gutierrez asked the jurors to see through the government's artifice and for his readers to "demand that the injustice against these defendants end(s)."
He ended his letter this way: "Respectfully submitted, the defendant, Pedro Gutierrez."
At about 11 a.m. Thursday, Gutierrez, Baxton and Gilmore all sat impassively as, one by one, the guilty verdicts were read aloud.