CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit upheld the conviction of a medical researcher-turned-ecstasy cook who plotted to kill a DEA agent and a federal prosecutor in an attempt to beat his drug charges.
"Frank Caira is a smart man who has done some stupid things," Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote at the beginning of the 17-page ruling. "Prominent among the latter was his plan for beating a felony drug indictment by having the prosecutor and Drug Enforcement Administration agent on his case murdered."
Caira was convicted for his role in the plot and sentenced to life in prison, plus 20 years.
Before this turn of events, Caira was a respected medical researcher at Northwestern University who had been lured into the drug trade and arrested for producing synthetic drugs, including more than 70,000 pills of MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
At trial, Caira tried to argue that the murder plot was not his idea. He sought to call his former attorney, Jeffrey Fawell, to testify that Caira had shown him text messages from the alleged hit man in a panic.
But the court agreed with prosecutors that Fawell's testimony would be "rank hearsay" unless Caira himself testified about his meeting with Fawell.
After a brief recess, Caira decided to take the stand, a decision that became the subject of his appeal.
"The government's cross-examination of Caira was devastating," Wood wrote. It elicited admissions that Caira made hundreds of thousands of dollars manufacturing drugs for years; lied to the IRS, the court and his wife; and solicited a man to kill his lawyer's dog when the lawyer sought to withdraw from the case.
The jury convicted Caira on all counts.
On appeal, Caira claimed he was compelled to testify as a condition to Fawell's testimony in violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
But the 7th Circuit in Chicago rejected this argument outright.
"Caira's decision was voluntary, strategic and fully informed - that is, it was the antithesis of compulsory," Wood wrote. "Had the jury believed him, he might be a free man today. But it did not. We are satisfied that Caira's decision to testify was based on much more than the district court's evidentiary ruling."
Once Caira took the stand, rather than limiting his answers to his conversation with Fawell, he chose to go into much greater detail about the murder plot, the court explained.
"Caira used his opportunity to testify to bolster his side of the story before the jury. In the end, Caira cannot show that the mistaken exclusion of one line of evidence had the necessary effect on his rights," the ruling states.
The court also ruled that Caira was not prejudiced by jury instructions that did not explain the required mental states to convict of conspiracy to murder, given his "devastating" admissions on cross-examination.
"Caira's own testimony undermines his argument that he never meant to have any murders committed," Wood wrote.
"In light of these incriminating admissions, even if the erroneous instruction prejudiced Caira, the conviction does not seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings," she concluded.
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