The North Carolina appeals court on Tuesday upheld the murder conviction of Rashawn Mackey, a reputed Charlotte gang member sentenced to life in prison in February 2014.
The three-judge panel ruled that Mackey’s right to a fair trial had not been undermined by an unusual decision by the trial judge: Superior Court Judge Richard Boner did not tell the courtroom of a note from jurors expressing concern for their safety.
A jailhouse witness testified that he and Mackey had been members of United Blood Nation, and that Mackey had identified witnesses he wanted eliminated or intimidated. He also said Mackey, 21, told him there would be gang members in the courtroom each day to see who testified against him.
Near the close of the trial, the jury sent Boner a note:
“Do we have any concern for our safety following the verdict? Based on previous witness gang (information) and large (number) of people in court during the trial. Please do not bring this up in court.”
Boner, now retired, did not disclose the note to the courtroom. In his appeal, defense attorney Brendan O’Donnell argued that Boner’s failure to question the jurors about the note and any bias it might show violated Mackey’s constitutional guarantees to a fair trial and an impartial jury.
The appeals court disagreed. In authoring the unanimous opinion, Judge Donna Stroud said that jurors had written the note to Boner based on testimony they heard during the trial and had not been influenced by extraneous or improper evidence.
Viewing the jury note in proper context indicates that the jury did not reach its verdict “on an improper, emotional basis,” Stroud concluded.
The appeals court ruling acknowledged that the judges should disclose every jury note to the defense. But Stroud said that state law does not require notification.
United Blood Nation has been linked to a series of crimes, including the October murders of Doug and Debbie London of Lake Wylie, S.C. Prosecutors say the couple was killed to keep Doug London from testifying against three UBN members accused of trying to rob the couple’s mattress store in May 2014.
During a raid of one of the suspect’s jail cells in January, the FBI found photos of Boner, another judge and the Charlotte city attorney. All three were placed under protective watch.