Four members of the Vice Lords street gang could face the death penalty when they go to trial next year as part of a massive 64-count federal indictment handed down in October.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Todd J. Campbell set an early February start date for the trial of eight local members of the violent street gang.
But the trial date could change depending on whether the U.S. Department of Justice decides to seek the death penalty for four gang members — Roger Wayne Battle, 28; Jessie Lobbins, 24; Christopher David Imes, 21; and Demarco Lewayne Smith, 23.
The U.S. Attorney's office and defense attorneys must submit arguments for and against the death penalty for each defendant, but the decision is ultimately determined by Attorney General Eric Holder's office.
The trial, which will be the culmination of a two-plus-year investigation by the Department of Justice, likely will focus on a string of retaliation crimes that quickly followed the Nov. 10, 2007 shooting death of gang leader Donnell Valentine at the Murfreesboro club, The Drink.
Following that incident, the Vice Lords, led by 28-year-old Roger Wayne Battle, reportedly set out on a wave of retaliation crimes, including four drive-by shootings in Murfreesboro that left four individuals shot — and one, Moss Mason Dixon, dead, according to police reports. The gang members are also charged with the murder of Brandon Harris.
Campbell said he did not want to set an “artificially quick” trial date that would force a “knee-jerk reaction” from the Department of Justice on the question of the death penalty. But, without a tangible trial date, the federal office can be slow to move on such questions, he said.
“The problem is getting a response from Washington,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the four defendants facing a possible death sentence, Battle's attorney Paul J. Bruno asked the court for a 2011 trial date so the defense would have the time needed to examine all the evidence and mount their submission to Washington.
Curtis Green, 28, who is not facing the death penalty, was the only defendant to object to the 2011 trial date request.
Green's attorney, Dwight E. Scott, said the later trial date would be a violation of his client's right to a speedy trial. He informed the court he planned to file appropriate paperwork for the objection.
Attorneys representing three other defendants not eligible for the death penalty — Lashandra Danielle Hightower, 26; Samuel Joseph Gaines, 22; and Delregus Alexander, 35 — did not object to the trial date.