Jury selection continued yesterday for the latest round of a murder and conspiracy case in which prosecutors indicted 25 defendants for a series of crimes related to the crack cocaine trade in the South Bronx.
Kalieh McMorris, 23, and two brothers, Khalil Harris, 29 and Shariff Harris, 26, were among the few defendants who did not plead guilty. The three defendants face charges of conspiracy, assault, robbery and murder in Bronx Supreme Court.
The court is expected to hear testimony from more than a dozen witnesses in the trial that could last well into December. The prosecution plans to present transcripts from tapped telephone conversations as well as DNA and fingerprint evidence related to the murder of Russell Allen, 24, an alleged drug dealer.
Twenty of the original twenty-five defendants pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from a year in jail to 10 to 20 years in prison. McMorris and the Harris brothers pleaded innocent and face at least 15 years in prison if convicted of the top charges against them for conspiracy.
Assistant District Attorney Adam Oustatcher said the crimes covered in the indictment began in February 2006, when McMorris allegedly shot two drug dealers at Castle Hill Houses, the same location where Allen was shot dead two years later.
Allen’s relatives were in attendance during the jury selection. His cousin, Ashley Jones, said she came to seek justice for her family.
“They killed my cousin,” Jones said. “We lost a family member and he’s never going to come back.”
McMorris is charged with murder, robbery, assault, conspiring to sell crack cocaine, and using teens under the age of 16 to assist him. Shariff Harris faces robbery, burglary and assault.
McMorris’ attorney Cesar Gonzalez said his client should be tried separately from the other defendants, as guilty verdicts against the Harris brothers, who are not charged with murder, might sway the jury on the additional charge against McMorris.
“What happens when you knock down one domino?” Gonzalez asked.
McMorris’ father, Jude Leon McMorris, said yesterday outside the courtroom that his son was not a murderer and that the DNA and fingerprints would prove that.
“He is a good kid,” said Father McMorris, a chaplain at Rikers Island. “He was going to school and doing the right thing. He wasn’t in any gangs.”
Father McMorris said his son hadn’t always listened to his parents, but that he had “made peace with God” during the three years he’s spent awaiting trial at Rikers Island, and was well respected there by inmates and guards alike.
“He’s been planting the seed that gang life is not the right path to take,” Father McMorris said.
The case against McMorris and the Harris brothers stems from a six-month wiretapping operation during which 24 lines were tapped and 140,000 phone calls were intercepted.
Two more defendants, including a third Harris brother, 28-year-old Hassan, are also awaiting trial.
With additional reporting by Steven Graboski