(CN) – The 2nd Circuit on Monday reversed the conviction of a woman who drove the getaway car from the scene of a gang slaying in New York, finding there was no evidence she knew the victim was dead or dying.
Eva Cardoza was one of four people convicted by a White Plains, N.Y. jury in July 2012, of a variety of federal charges ranging from drug dealing to racketeering and obstruction-of-justice.
Three of the four were members of the Latin Kings, a group that prosecutors said controlled the crack cocaine, powder cocaine, heroin and marijuana markets in gang-controlled locations in Newburgh, N.Y.
Cardoza is not a member of the gang, but she and her boyfriend, Steven Lewis aka “Scoobz” or “Scooby,” stored drugs for the gang in their Newburgh, N.Y. apartment.
The jury convicted her as an accessory after the fact for her role in driving the getaway car from the scene of the March 2010 murder of John “Tarzan” Maldonado, an aspiring member of the gang.
As recounted in the opinion written by U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Wesley, the Latin Kings blamed Maldonado for the murder of made member at the hands of a rival gang, the Bloods.
The Latin Kings decided to retaliate by having member William Overton shoot Maldonado “in the middle of the street,” and then look for Cardoza’s “green SUV.”
But after Overton shot Maldonado three times, he ran past Cardoza and Lewis – who were waiting in the Explorer – and on through a graveyard.
Latin Kings member Carlos Romero testified that as the SUV approached Overton, the female driver said “come on, come on” as she waved her hand toward the inside of the car.
Another gang member, Luis Tambito, then yelled to Cardoza, “Go get him” – meaning Overton – and she drove toward the shooter.
Hearing sirens, Overton discarded his gloves, mask, and hoodie, stashed his weapon under some furniture “on somebody’s porch,” and got in Cardoza’s SUV.
Lewis then told Overton that someone would contact him to pick him up so he could show them where he had discarded the evidence, and then dispose of it.
Cardoza then drove Overton to his home in Montgomery, N.Y.
In addition to the accessory-after-the-fact charge, the jury also convicted Cardoza of various drug-related charges. It declined, however, to convict her on separate murder charges, and also tossed racketeering charges directly tied to Maldonado’s killing. Even so, Cardoza faced up to 30 years in prison.
The three Latin Kings – Nelson Calderon, Wilfredo Sanchez, and Angelo DeLeon – were convicted of racketeering, narcotics, and obstruction of justice.
They later appealed, with Cardoza arguing that there was insufficient evidence to convict her.
Judge Wesley, writing for the three-judge panel, agreed.
“Even if Cardoza was told that Maldonado was going to be shot, there is no evidence that she knew Maldonado was dead or dying when she drove Overton away,” Wesley wrote. “Tambito’s direction to Cardoza to ‘[g]o get’ Overton when he ran the wrong way, while showing that Cardoza understood that she was providing getaway services, does not show that she knew what Overton’s mission was or that it had been successful. Lastly, in the conversation between Overton and Lewis on the drive out of Newburgh, there is no indication that either Maldonado or the shooting were discussed.”
Though Cardoza may have heard the shots, shots fired in the narcotics trade “are not always intended to be lethal and, even so intended, not all gunshots are fatal,” Wesley added. “The Latin Kings and the Bloods would frequently ‘shoot at’ each other to ‘show face’ or to protect their drug-selling territory. The jury was not entitled to infer, without more, that shots fired within earshot of Cardoza gave her knowledge that Maldonado was dead or dying.”
The court affirmed the other appellants’ convictions, however, as well as Cardoza’s convictions of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.
Courthouse News is awaiting comment from the defendants at this time.
- Sixth Amendment
- Homeowner Rakes Wells Fargo Over the Coals