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Ramarley Graham's brothers convicted in gun case

June 20, 2012 5:30:12 AM PDT
Two half-brothers of an unarmed drug suspect who was killed by police were convicted Tuesday of conspiracy but acquitted of more serious charges in a gun-gang case, after a trial that unfolded amid a growing outcry over the deadly police shooting.

Three months before Ramarley Graham was shot in his Bronx apartment by an officer who said he thought Graham was reaching for a gun, his twin half-brothers Hodean and Kadean Graham were charged with forming part of a destructive gang of gun-toting toughs in central Harlem. Defense lawyers said the twins knew some of the alleged gang members but weren't involved with the gun stashes and violence that prosecutors described.

While the case against the identical, 19-year-old twins wasn't tied to Ramarley Graham's death, the twins were on trial in Manhattan while Bronx prosecutors conducted a lengthy investigation into the police shooting. An officer was ultimately indicted on manslaughter charges; he pleaded not guilty last week.

To the Grahams' family, the twins' trial felt like an added blow, even though jurors rejected the bulk of the charges.

"It's like they took three of my kids in one year," father Franclot Graham said after a judge ordered the twins jailed while awaiting their July 3 sentencing; they had been free on bail. Other relatives wept loudly in the courtroom.

Convicted of a single, low-level felony, the twins face a maximum of four years in prison. They could get probation.

Meanwhile, another brother, Tyrone, 20, awaits trial on attempted murder, weapons and other charges related to the case against his twin brothers. He has pleaded not guilty.

Known by names including "Goodfellas/The New Dons" and "One Twenty-Nine" or "OTN," the gang sold drugs to get money to buy guns, stashed the weapons in mailboxes and stoops, and used them to fight rivals for its turf around 129th Street and Lenox Avenue, police and prosecutors said. The Goodfellas inflicted shootings, other violence and fear in the neighborhood, authorities said.

"What started out as a group of disenfranchised teens and young men who were unaffiliated with other, more prominent gangs evolved into an armed and highly organized crew in its own right," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement Tuesday.

Some 20 people have been charged in the case; 13 have pleaded guilty. One, Cordero Bailey, was acquitted Tuesday of all charges.

Both Hodean and Kadean Graham faced conspiracy and weapons-possession charges. Hodean Graham also was charged with attempted murder; prosecutors said he had fired a gun into a crowd.

But defense lawyers said the twins were wrongly tied to gang violence and gun-peddling they had nothing to do with.

Kadean Graham's lawyer, Franklin Rothman, acknowledged the twins had sold the hallucinogen PCP when they were about 16, and that his client tried to buy a gun at the time. But, he said, the two later straightened out their lives; by the time they were arrested in the Goodfellas case, they were attending a community college upstate.

The twins grew up with some of the accused gang members and hung out with them, but that was the extent of their involvement, said Hodean Graham's lawyer, Neville Mitchell.

"(Prosecutors) tried to brand every young black kid in that community as gun-toting monsters," he said.

Bailey's lawyer, Reginald Sharpe, said his client had simply been in someone else's apartment when police searched it and found guns.

Meanwhile, the criminal case surrounding 18-year-old Ramarley Graham's death is just beginning.

The February shooting stemmed from an NYPD investigation into drug-selling in the Bronx neighborhood where Graham lived with his grandmother and other relatives, but not the twins.

Police said investigators identified him as a potential suspect. Officers followed a man - apparently Graham - into his building and broke down a door to his apartment after he didn't stop when they identified themselves and ordered him to do so, police said.

Officer Richard Haste, 31, has said through his lawyer that he shot Graham after the teen reached for his waistband. The officer said in a statement he believed Graham was going to shoot him.

A search of the apartment didn't turn up any weapons. Police said they found marijuana in the toilet.

The shooting has spurred protests, with supporters of Graham's family saying that Haste used excessive force and that officers were braced for trouble simply because Graham was black. Haste is white.

Police officers flocked to the courthouse to show support for Haste, and the police union president has said the officer was put in a terrible position while doing a difficult job.

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