United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VIRGINIA M. KENDALL, District Judge.
After years of pretrial litigation including numerous competency evaluations, pretrial release revocation hearings, multiple appointed lawyers, and multitudes of pro se filings by the defendant, Ronald Haddad, a jury convicted him of twenty eight counts of mailing threatening communications in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) (Counts 1-28), and two counts of emailing threatening communications in interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) (Counts 29-30). (Dkt. No. 75). Haddad now moves for judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29, alleging that there was insufficient evidence linking him as the author of the charged letters. Haddad also moves for a new trial under Fed. R. Crim. P. 33, alleging that the Court committed a number of errors. According to Haddad, these errors denied him a fair trial. For the reasons stated herein, the Court denies Haddad's motions.
I. The Record Contained Sufficient Evidence to Support the Jury's Verdict
Haddad faces "a nearly insurmountable hurdle" in claiming that the jury had insufficient evidence to identify him as the author of the communications. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29; see United States v. Tucker, 737 F.3d 1090, 1092 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing United States v. Morris, 576 F.3d 661, 666 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Pulido, 69 F.3d 192, 205 (7th Cir. 1995))). The Court now reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and makes all reasonable inferences in the prosecution's favor when reviewing a motion for judgment of acquittal. United States v. Hassebrock, 663 F.3d 906, 918 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court may overturn the jury's guilty verdict "only when the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. (quoting United States v. Huddleston, 593 F.3d 596, 601 (7th Cir. 2010)). If any rational trier of fact could have found that the defendant committed the essential elements of the crime, then the Court must affirm the conviction. Hassebrock, 663 F.3d at 918.
To sustain a conviction for mailing threatening communications, the Government was required to prove that Haddad deposited or caused to be deposited in the mail a communication containing a threat to injure another person; and that he mailed the threat knowingly. See 18 U.S.C. § 876(c); see also United States v. Parr, 545 F.3d 491 (7th Cir. 2008) (generally discussing crimes of threatening communications). To prove that Haddad transmitted a threat, the Government was required to prove that Haddad transmitted in interstate commerce a communication containing a threat to injure another person; and that he transmitted the threat knowingly. See 18 U.S.C. § 875(c); see also Parr, 545 F.3d 491. Here, Haddad argues that the Government failed to present sufficient evidence that he was the author of the charged communications or that he sent the communications to the recipients in Counts 1-28. According to Haddad, because there was no forensic evidence of his involvement, the Government failed to meet its burden. Haddad further argues that the evidence failed to support a finding that the emails in Counts 29 and 30 contained true threats as opposed to exaggerated violent imagery.
The evidence presented to the jury to prove that Haddad authored the communications comprised the following. A number of witnesses, including Peter Andrews, Richard Garcia, Bernard Stone, and Erika Lopez, among others, testified that between December 2007 and January 2009, more than two dozen anonymous packages were sent to various elected officials in Chicago and high-ranking oil executives in Texas and California. Testimony from Peter Andrews, Erika Lopez, Laura Pedro, Chris Coleman, Adrienne Blocker, Richard Garcia, and Agent Sandra Flores established that these mailings were sent to an array of locations, including the office of Alderman Ed Burke, Mayor Daley's office, State Senator Emil Jones's office, John Cullerton's office, the Cook County building, Shell Oil Company, and Chevron Oil Company, respectively. A number of the packages enclosed both a letter and one of the following unknown substances: a white powder, a brown granular powder, or a plastic bag filled with an oily liquid. According to Agent Maureen Mazzola and Terrence Cullivan, another group of packages contained a live shotgun shell attached to a pyrotechnic popper. The letters found in the packages included extreme language. Mazzola testified that the letter sent to the oil companies included a section stating:
Here is the new situation: We the people are going to stand up to you and fucking kill you. If all went well through the mail, we already killed many of your leaders, hopefully all married and with kids, because we're not going to fall for any society or values bullshit that says we need to be better people by ignoring so-called bigger people like you who attack us...
Mazzola said that other letters inspected throughout the investigation contained similar language. Further, the letters found in the charged communications addressed a number of distinct topics including "80-cent per gallon sugar ethanol fuel" being unavailable in the United States, various political ills in Chicago including patronage hiring and specifically, the conduct of Todd Stroger and Donna Dunnings, wasteful government spending on "public spy cameras, " and inordinately high Chicago taxes and parking meter rates.
The Government connected the letters found in the anonymous mailings to Haddad by introducing evidence of personal emails recovered from Haddad's personal email account. Mazzola testified that pursuant to a warrant, the Government recovered four emails found in Haddad's email account from Yahoo! The emails contained strikingly similar language and topic choices to the letters found in the charged communications. Mazzola testified that an identical letter was sent to three oil executives on June 19, 2008: Marvin Odum, John Hofmeister, and Charles James. Both Mazzola and Sandra Jacquez Flores testified that the letter sent to the oil executives stated, in part:
... as you made sure our politicians ban solar power and the sugar ethanol fuel for 80 cents per gallon at the station... if you and your precious families don't want to die next, and we will so happily and without mercy kill your families... you will bring down the price of gasoline and oil to all-time lows... and allow us to have solar power and 80 cents a gallon at the gas station sugar ethanol fuel just as Germany and Brazil and Spain and many other countries have...
To tie this letter to Haddad, Mazzola told the jury that an email dated July 15, 2008 recovered from Haddad's email account contained the following passage: "Brazil now has and has had for some years 80 cents a gallon at the pump sugar ethanol fuel... Do whatever it takes to knock off and wipe out big oil and force the phase-in of sugar ethanol... death to big oil... and death to their kids too." The July 15, 2008 email also contained the names and addresses of the oil executives who had received the previously mentioned letter. Mazzola stated that similar references to sugar ethanol fuel were found in other emails recovered from Haddad's account dated September 21, 2008 and December 7, 2008.
Mazzola further linked the letters to the unique topics and rants that were also found in emails recovered from Haddad's personal account. Mazzola said that emails recovered from Haddad's account dated January 24, 2008, July 15, 2008, and September 21, 2008, all contained statements demonstrating a strong dissatisfaction with public spy cameras in Chicago. The July 15, 2008 email also contained a section dedicated to expressing anger over Todd Stroger's conduct in allegedly lying that a tax hike was needed for a deficit when the money actually went toward giving his cousin, Donna Dunnings, "the biggest Cook County employee raise 12 percent in Cook County history." The email dated December 7, 2008 faulted Mayor Daley for the parking meter rate increase from 25 cents an hour to one dollar per hour citywide, claiming that the profit went to Mayor Daley's nephew, William Daley, Jr., a partner at Morgan Stanley. Mazzola testified that shotgun shell packages were sent to both Donna Dunnings and William Daley, Jr.
Based on this evidence, a reasonable jury could find that Haddad mailed the threatening communications. Although the Government did not present any direct evidence of the crime through a witness personally observing Haddad's conduct, a verdict may be rational even when it relies solely on circumstantial evidence. See United States v. Jones, 713 F.3d 336, 340 (7th Cir. 2013); see also United States v. Gracia, 272 F.3d 866, 874 (7th Cir. 2001) (circumstantial evidence may be the sole support for a conviction). Per Seventh Circuit Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction 2.03, the Court instructed the jury that they could rely on circumstantial evidence and that the law makes no distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence. Specifically, the Court instructed the jury "to consider both direct and circumstantial evidence. The law does not say that one is better than the other. It is up to you to decide how much weight to give to any evidence, whether direct or circumstantial." The Government presented evidence to the jury linking the unique and inflammatory language and topic choices that law enforcement agents recovered in both the charged communications and Haddad's personal emails. The Government linked each and every communication with a topic or language that marked the singular diction of the author. The numerous distinct topics contained in the letters were universally also located in the recovered emails. Accordingly, the jury, as the trier of fact, made appropriately reasonable inferences from the evidence presented at trial and that evidence was more than sufficient to make those reasonable inferences. The record contains ample evidence supporting the jury's verdict of guilt based on their decision that Haddad authored the communications.
Haddad alleges that these reasonable inferences cannot support a verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because the inferences were not supported by any forensic evidence. Haddad argues at length that because the Government presented no fingerprint or DNA evidence attributable to him, it failed to satisfy its burden. This argument fails for two reasons. First, the Government expressly rebutted this theory at trial through presentation of documents found in Haddad's bedroom stressing the importance of avoiding leaving fingerprint or DNA evidence. Mazzola and Agent Bryan Clark testified that during the search of Haddad's home, the search team recovered documents entitled Ultimate Revenge Techniques for the Master Trickster and Vigilante Handbook. At trial, the Government introduced redacted and limited portions of these books through Mazzola. In total, approximately two pages of text out of 62 were taken from Ultimate Revenge Techniques and four pages out of 200 were used from the Vigilante Handbook. . Mazzola testified that the Ultimate Revenge Techniques excerpt contained "commandments of revenge" including: "Thou shalt not touch revenge documents with thy bare hands. Bare hands leave fingerprints." The Vigilante Handbook excerpt contained instructions for sending "warnings" to elicit change. Mazzola also testified that the search team recovered an internet posting from Haddad's bedroom. The posting emphasized the need to take precautions when conducting criminal activity. The posting encouraged readers to cover their tracks by "never leav[ing] spit, blood, sweat, finger, toe, palm, or other prints, never leave hair so if you got your hair cut in the last two days, don't do the job." It was another reasonable conclusion for the jury to conclude that Haddad abided by these instructional materials recovered from his home and was careful not to leave fingerprint or DNA evidence. Second, in view of the evidence of the many consistencies between the charged communications and the recovered emails from Haddad's account, the Government was not required to present fingerprint or DNA evidence attributable to Haddad. The question for the jury is never what the jury did not hear; but rather, whether the evidence that the jury heard was sufficient to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. See United States v. Reed, 744 F.3d 519, 526 (7th Cir. 2014) (reviewing court will overturn a verdict for insufficiency of the evidence only if the record is devoid of evidence from which a rational trier of fact could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt); United States v. Westerfield, 714 F.3d 480, 484 (7th Cir. 2013) (reviewing ...