United States v. Frazier

Docket Number21-cr-30001-DWD
Decision Date12 July 2023
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. KENDRICK A. FRAZIER, KENWYN L. FRAZIER, and JASMINE M. CRAWFORD, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. Southern District of Illinois
MEMORANDUM & ORDER

DAVID W. DUGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Defendants Kendrick A. Frazier and Kenwyn L. Frazier have filed a Joint Motion for Judgment of Acquittal or Alternatively a New Trial for which they allege a myriad of errors and bases. (Doc 369). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

I. Background
A. Superseding Indictment and Bill of Particulars

Kendrick Frazier (Kendrick) and his brother, Kenwyn Frazier (Kenwyn) (collectively, “the Fraziers”), were charged in a superseding indictment with one count of kidnapping in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1) (Doc. 226).[1] The Superseding Indictment and Bill of Particulars (Doc. 224) alleged as follows: On August 13, 2020, Kenwyn was at Lola Eckford's (“Eckford”) apartment with Jasmine Crawford (Crawford) when he woke up from a nap and realized his “grillz” (a jeweled decorative mouthpiece worth thousands of dollars) was missing. Kein Eastman (“Kein”), the father of Eckford's infant son, had been at Eckford's apartment while Kenwyn was sleeping. Kenwyn suspected Kein had stolen the mouthpiece. Kenwyn left Eckford's apartment in a gray Dodge Durango (“the Durango”) and located Kein at a home belonging to his grandmother, Charlene Eastman (“Charlene”). Kenwyn took Kein at gunpoint from Charlene's home and transported him to Eckford's apartment, forcing him to look for the grillz.

Eventually, Kenwyn contacted his brother, Kendrick. Kendrick arrived at Eckford's apartment and briefly spoke to Kenwyn. A short time later, the Fraziers dragged Kein out of an upstairs bathroom and through the front door of the apartment yelling, “Take us to our shit.” Kenwyn was following behind Kendrick and appeared to be holding a gun. After a physical altercation, Kendrick shot Kein. Kein, who was bleeding from his face, then fled the scene.

Immediately thereafter, the Fraziers left in the Durango, driving in the same direction as Kein. At or about this time, Crawford exited the apartment and covered a Ring video camera that had been recording activity outside of the apartment with a cloth. Approximately two hours later, the Durango was found on fire and burned to the frame. The Durango was not observed returning to the area of Eckford's apartment any time after the shooting. A search of the burned Durango revealed no recoverable physical evidence due to the extensive fire damage.

The Durango was reported stolen by Edward Molton (“Molton”). Molton was a known associate of the Fraziers. Molton rented the Durango from AVIS car rental, and Kenwyn was with Molton when he rented the vehicle. In the time leading up to the Durango being found on fire, cellular phone records revealed multiple phone calls between Kenwyn and Molton, as well as multiple phone calls between Kenwyn and Crawford.

B. Jury Trial

A jury trial commenced on November 3, 2022, and culminated on November 10, 2022, with a guilty verdict as to both defendants (Docs. 347, 352). The Court will not summarize all the evidence presented over the course of trial - the transcript speaks for itself. Instead, in assessing the instant motion, the Court will evaluate evidence relevant to and only in the detail required to address arguments raised by the Fraziers. Further, when discussing the facts adduced at trial, they will be presented in a light most favorable to the government. United States v. Wrobel, 841 F.3d 450, 454 (7th Cir. 2016)

II. Applicable Legal Standards
A. Federal Kidnapping Statute

The federal kidnapping statute states, in pertinent part, that:

Whoever unlawfully seizes, confines, inveigles, decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or carries away and holds for ransom or reward or otherwise any person, except in the case of a minor by the parent thereof, when ... the offender... uses... any means, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in committing or in furtherance of the commission of the offense ... shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life.. 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1); see also United States v. Eason, 854 F.3d 922, 922 (7th Cir. 2017) (discussing elements).
B. Judgment of Acquittal - Rule 29(c)

A defendant in a criminal case who has been found guilty by a jury may move for a judgment of acquittal under Rule 29(c). FED. R. CRIM. P. 29(c). The Court will only overturn the jury's verdict if “after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, the record is devoid of evidence from which a reasonable jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Wrobel, 841 F.3d 450, 454 (7th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted); see also United States v. Colonia, 870 F.2d 1319, 1326 (7th Cir. 1989) (Evidence is sufficient if any rational trier of fact could have found all of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, viewing the evidence and every reasonable inference in the light most favoring the prosecution.”)(emphasis added); United States v. Bruun, 809 F.2d 397, 408 (7th Cir. 1987) (a jury verdict may be overturned only “where the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”)(citations omitted).

The Seventh Circuit has stated that [a] defendant who challenges the sufficiency of the evidence faces a nearly insurmountable hurdle. . . [in that] [the Court] consider[s] the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, defer[s] to the credibility determination of the jury, and overturn[s] a verdict only when the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Gougis, 432 F.3d 735, 743-44 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted).

C. New Trial - Rule 33

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 allows “a district court to grant a timely request for a new trial ‘if the interest of justice so requires.' United States v. O'Malley, 833 F.3d 810, 811 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting FED. R. CRIM. P. 33(a)). The Seventh Circuit has cautioned that Rule 33 motions should be granted only in “the most extreme cases.” United States v. Linwood, 142 F.3d 418, 422 (7th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also United States v. Santos, 20 F.3d 280, 285 (7th Cir. 1994) (explaining that jury verdicts in criminal cases are “not to be overturned lightly”).

The Court should only grant a new trial if the evidence “preponderate[s] heavily against the verdict, such that it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand,” United States v. Swan, 486 F.3d 260, 266 (7th Cir. 2007) (alteration in original) (citation omitted), or “if there is a reasonable possibility that [a] trial error had a prejudicial effect on the jury's verdict,” United States v. Maclin, 915 F.3d 440, 444 (7th Cir. 2019). “The ultimate inquiry is whether the defendant was deprived of a fair trial.” United States v. Friedman, 971 F.3d 700, 713 (7th Cir. 2020) (citation omitted). In making this determination, “[t]he court may not reweigh the evidence and set aside the verdict simply because it feels some other result would be more reasonable. United States v. Reed, 875 F.2d 107, 113 (7th Cir. 1989).

III. Discussion
A. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

The Fraziers contend the Government failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction on kidnapping. Specifically, they argue the Government failed to prove that (1) Kein was taken or held against his will; (2) Kendrick held Kein for an appreciable time; (3) Kendrick used a cellphone or the Durango to further the alleged kidnapping; and (4) Kendrick was an aider or abettor. Each of these arguments is addressed in turn below.

1. Evidence that Kein was Taken or Held Against his Will

To obtain a conviction for kidnapping, the Government had to establish that Kein was held against his will. See Chatwin v. United States, 326 U.S. 455, 464 (1946) (noting that “the involuntariness of seizure and detention ... is the very essence of the crime of kidnaping”); United States v. Hernandez, 106 F.3d 737, 738 (7th Cir. 1997) (government has the burden of establishing that victim was taken or held against his will); United States v. Jones, 808 F.2d 561, 565-67 (7th Cir. 1986) (in federal kidnapping case, absence of consent is an element to be proven).

The Fraziers contend that the Government failed to prove Kein was taken or held against his will because (1) the evidence did not definitively establish that Kenwyn forced Kein from Charlene's home at gunpoint; (2) Kein was not restrained or confined while he was at Eckford's apartment; and (3) he did not flee or call for help, despite having opportunities to do so.

As an initial matter, it was not necessary for Kein to be taken or held at gunpoint, nor was it necessary for him to be physically restrained or confined. As the Supreme Court explained in the case of Chatwin v. United States, 326 U.S. 455, 464 (1946),[2] [t]he act of holding a kidnapped person for a proscribed purpose necessarily implies an unlawful physical or mental restraint for an appreciable period against the person's will and with a willful intent so to confine the victim.” (emphasis added). Thus, even absent physical restraint, a kidnapping victim can be compelled to comply because he fears harm or injury from the perpetrator. See United States v. Garza-Robles, 627 F.3d 161, 167-68 (5th Cir. 2010) (“It was not necessary that [the victim] be physically restrained or confined, as nonphysical restraint arising from fear is enough to support a kidnapping conviction.. .A person's will can be overcome...

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