United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
Charlene Edwards Honeywell United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court upon Defendant's Renewed
Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (Doc. 256), Defendant's
Motion for New Trial (Doc. 258), and the Government's
responses thereto (Doc. 264; Doc. 273). In the Renewed Motion
for Judgment of Acquittal, Defendant requests that the Court
vacate his conviction on Count III, brandishing a firearm
during and in furtherance of a crime of violence, and enter a
judgment of acquittal because there was insufficient evidence
before the jury that Defendant had advance knowledge that a
firearm would be used in the commission of the substantive
robbery offense. The Government disagrees, arguing that
sufficient evidence existed such that a reasonable jury could
have found that Defendant was aware of the firearm prior to
the commission of the robbery.
Motion for New Trial, Defendant requests that the Court
vacate his convictions and order a new trial because the
Government impermissibly bolstered the credibility of its
cooperating witness. The Government again disagrees, arguing
that a new trial should not be granted because no
impermissible bolstering occurred. The Court, having
considered the motions and being fully advised in the
premises, will deny both motions.
federal grand jury returned a second superseding indictment
charging Defendant Dajor Atkins with four counts stemming
from a June 2, 2018 robbery of an AT&T store located in
Clearwater, Florida. Doc. 169. The second superseding
indictment charged Defendant with (I) conspiring to interfere
with commerce by robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
1951; (II) interfering with commerce by robbery in violation
of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); (III) brandishing a firearm
during and in furtherance of a crime of violence in violation
of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii); and (IV) possessing a
firearm despite being a convicted felon in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 922(g). Id. The indictment also sought
various forfeitures in the event of conviction. Id.
The case proceeded to trial on August 26, 2019.
following evidence was presented at trial. Riley Harris
(“Harris”) committed three armed robberies of
AT&T stores prior to June 2, 2018. Doc. 261 at 3:11-3:15.
In at least two of those three robberies, Harris utilized the
assistance of another person. In the first robbery, Harris
had a woman named Cornika Wright serve as a lookout and
getaway driver. Doc. 260 at 42:15-42:19, 48:12-48:21,
60:1-60:2. In the third robbery, Harris had a woman named
Alonia Perkins serve as a getaway driver. Id. at
111:15-111:23, 113:4-113:10, 116:25-117:2.
or late May 2018, Harris told Defendant about the third
robbery he had committed, including how it happened and how
much money he made. Doc. 261 at 25:10-25:25, 26:16-26:23.
However, Harris did not mention to Defendant that he had used
a gun in that robbery. Id. at 35:19-35:24.
told Harris of his interest in participating in a future
robbery so that Defendant could make money as well.
Id. at 26:2-26:10. Harris told Defendant that he
would need Defendant to drive. Id. at 26:11-26:15.
Harris also told Defendant that Harris needed to get some
things before then-”a rental car, a new gun, stuff like
that”-and that Harris would let Defendant know when he
was ready. Id. at 27:6-28:8. Within a week or two,
Harris obtained a rental car, a new gun, and a mask.
Id. at 26:16-26:23, 29:5-29:8, 30:7-30:19. Harris
then told Defendant that he was ready. Id. at
Saturday, June 2, 2018, Harris picked Defendant up from his
house. Id. at 33:6-33:16. Harris had brought with
him a change of clothes, gloves, a mask, and a gun, which he
had kept in one or more bags. Id. at 34:8-34:17,
35:16-35:18; 95:7-95:25. Defendant took over the driving and
Harris moved to the back seat to change clothes and get
ready. Id. at 33:11-34:15.
backed the vehicle into a parking space in front of an
AT&T store. Id. at 38:11-38:20. From the car,
Harris changed his clothes, put on gloves and a mask, and
took the gun out of a bag. Id. at 39:11-39:21.
Inside the car, Harris cocked the gun and it made an audible
sound. Id. at 39:19-40:5.
exited the car with a duffel bag. Id. at 40:6-41:2,
95:20-96:9. Harris kept the gun concealed while on the
sidewalk, taking the gun out when he entered the store.
Id. at 40:21-41:4, 96:2-96:10. Defendant kept a
lookout while Harris was in the store and the two stayed in
communication through cell phone. Id. at
44:14-44:25, 45:16-45:25. Harris told Defendant when he was
ready to leave the store. Id. at 47:4-47:16. Before
exiting the store, Harris put the gun in a bag. Id.
at 96:21-96:25. Harris exited the store and climbed into the
trunk of the car with his bags, including a bag that held the
gun. Id. at 47:4-47:16, 50:18-50:25, 96:25-97:2.
had previously agreed to drive back to where Defendant lived
following the robbery. Id. at 42:20-43:9. Defendant
drove away from the store and onto a bridge. Id. at
47:15-47:21, 48:10-48:14. Harris and Defendant later pulled
over, changing the license plate and taking stickers off to
make the car less identifiable as the one that left the
parking lot of the store. Id. at 61:6-61:23.
after Defendant and Harris were arrested, Harris entered a
plea agreement. Doc. 260 at 5:16-6:15, 7:8-7:25. Harris then
began cooperating with investigators, in particular, FBI
special agent James Bucenell (“Bucenell”). Doc.
273-1 at 3:14-4:8, 62:25-63:13. Harris offered Bucenell
information about the four armed robberies, including the
names of his accomplices and from where he had purchased
firearms. Id. at 63:14-63:17; Doc. 273-2 at
5:7-5:15, 6:12-6:25, 9:4-9:15.
trial, Harris testified about all four of the armed
robberies. Doc. 260; Doc. 261. After Harris testified, the
Government elicited testimony from Bucenell about his
investigation of the robberies. Bucenell discussed the
information Harris had offered and how the investigative
leads resulting from that information turned out. On several
occasions, the Government asked Bucenell on direct
examination whether his further investigation
“corroborated” or “matched” the
information Harris had offered or whether the
“investigative leads pan[ned] out.” Doc. 273-1 at
63:13-64:1, 66:5-67:23; Doc. 273-2 at 4:2-9:15. Defendant
objected several times to the Government's line of
first objected on the basis of relevancy. Doc. 273-1 at 64:9.
The Court called counsel to sidebar and asked how much longer
the Government intended to question Bucenell about his
investigation of Cornika Wright so that the Court could
determine when to release the jury for the evening.
Id. at 65:17-65:21. The Court overruled
Defendant's objection and instructed the Government to
finish the current testimony related to Cornika Wright so
that the Court could then stop and send the jury home.
Id. at 65:17-65:24. The following relevant exchanges
then took place late that afternoon and the following day.
BY MR. GORDON [for the Government]:
Q Special Agent Bucenell, you can answer the question. Did
you review the cell site records?
A Yes, I did.
Q Did they corroborate what Riley Harris told you?
Q Did you find other information that corroborated what he
told you about Cornika Wright?
A Yes. Yes.
Q Did you investigate her employment history?
A Yes, I did.
Q Did her employment history match what Riley Harris told
A Yes, it did.
Q Was she employed at an AT&T store?
A She was actually employed at the Parrish store.
Q Same store that he robbed?
MS. HARDIN [counsel for Defendant]: Objection. Bolstering.
THE COURT: Well, I'm going to sustain the objection. I
think it goes beyond our conversation at sidebar, so is there
any further inquiry regarding this area?
BY MR. GORDON:
Q Did you do anything else or did you find anything else that
corroborated what he said about Cornika Wright beyond what
you described so far?
MS. HARDIN: Same objection.
MR. GORDON: Just trying to ask the question that Your Honor