DELAND — The first of six men to go to trial on allegations of being part of a dangerous street gang was acquitted Thursday.
Police accused David “The Ghost” Weston, 26, of being part of a local street gang called the Crips 773, which was said to be responsible for “countless crimes” in the Daytona Beach area.
Instead of facing up to 60 years in prison, Weston was cleared of all charges that accused him of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
“When the verdict was read, David was emotional,” his lawyer, Brad Sherman said later Thursday. “I had to be the one to tell him he was not guilty, despite the fact that the courtroom clerk read the verdict loud and clear.”
The trial was held in front of Circuit Judge Margaret Hudson. As a result of the verdict, Weston will be released from custody.
“My client is paying the price for associating with bad people,” Weston’s lawyer, Sherman, told the jury in his closing argument. “He’s not an angel. I’m not trying to say he is. But he is not guilty of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering.”
“There was a serious lack of evidence in this case,” he said later.
Weston was arrested last year in an investigation by Daytona Beach police, the Flagler County and Volusia County sheriff’s agencies, the State Attorney’s Office and FBI.
The operation was called “Operation Six Dropping,” and touted as a way to “send a message” that criminal gangs would not be tolerated. Sherman said the only “enterprise” in the case, was “a bunch of delinquents who had no money, no parental guidance and no direction in life.”
Also charged in the case were Willie Harpe Jr., Louis Smith, Bakari Smith, Edward Hayle, Billy Ray Ivey. Hayle has already pleaded to his charges. Ivey is wanted on a warrant.
Klare Ly, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, indicated the verdict in Weston’s case would have no impact on the other related cases.
“The others will probably want trials,” she said. “We intend to proceed with prosecuting them all.”
Prosecutors Marty White and Jeanne Stratis used testimony from law enforcement officers and witnesses in their effort to link Weston to criminal gang activities.
There was testimony about fights with rival gang members, drug sales and robberies.
Defense lawyer Sherman, however, argued there wasn’t enough evidence to convict his client of the charges.
“The state is asking you to believe that if you associate with bad people, and you commit crimes, then you are guilty of racketeering,” Sherman argued. “But there has to be a nexus.”
He pointed out that Weston already served time in prison for a 2009 home invasion robbery — which was a crime that prosecutors tried to use as evidence of Weston’s gang affiliation.
“My client’s home invasion had nothing to do with gang activity,” Sherman said, unabashedly. “It was drug related.”
In order to prove racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering, the state had to show that Weston was part of a criminal enterprise and committed crimes to contribute to that enterprise.
The crimes Weston committed included the home invasion robbery and a separate battery. To further illustrate he was a member of the street gang, prosecutor Stratis showed pictures of Weston’s tattoos, which showed what she said was the name of the gang.
“That shows his association with this enterprise,” she argued to the jury. “Why do we get tattoos? Because it means something.”
But the jury agreed with Sherman that the evidence wasn’t enough.
Bakari Smith, who is locked up on another charge, is expected to have his racketeering trial next month.
Ivey, who is known as “Ray” is considered a major recruiter for the gang, initiating young men to get in the gang by breaking into vehicles, police said. He is wanted by police.