News | 5.11.2011 | Comments Off on Past crimes issue at trial

Past crimes issue at trial
Suspects’ convictions may not come up in case of man’s disappearance
By ROBERT GAVIN Staff writer
Published 09:51 p.m., Friday, October 28, 2011

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ALBANY — Three men headed to trial Monday charged with the abduction and murder of a missing drug dealer have a combined 25 prior convictions — most of which jurors might never hear about.

Ricky “L” Thornton, 41; Jason “Jay” Benn, 38, and Louis “God” Chaney, 44, are accused of kidnapping and killing Steven Jackson, 41, of Guilderland. Jackson, a high-level pot dealer known as “Swag,” vanished on June 13, 2010, outside a marijuana stash house at 40 Parkwood St. in Albany.

His body has never been found. Authorities allege it was dumped below ground.

The defendants’ past crimes could only surface if they chose to testify in their own defense.

On Friday, their lawyers asked acting Supreme Court Justice Dan Lamont to block their clients’ sordid pasts from the case. Allowing a jury to hear about the convictions, many of which were misdemeanors, would be highly prejudicial, they argued.

Michael Feit, the attorney for Benn, told the judge he was “astounded” Albany County prosecutors wanted to consider highlighting the defendant’s 11 prior convictions. The prosecution was represented by Assistant District Attorneys Eric Galarneau, Francisco Calderon and Steven Sharp.

“They will chill my client’s right to testify in this particular case,” the lawyer said, saying the past convictions could influence jurors to conclude Benn is a “bad person.”

The judge reserved judgment. He also made no immediate decision on the admissibility of Thornton’s nine prior convictions. Lamont ruled Thornton’s 1986 conviction for robbery should be blocked from the trial, as the upcoming case includes allegations the defendants targeted Jackson for robbery. He noted the earlier case was 24 years old.

In 1986, Thornton and former co-defendant Anthony Davis, now an expected key witness for prosecutors, were teenagers when both were incarcerated for a series of robberies in Albany involving elderly victims. One 79-year-old paint shop proprietor on Central Avenue was forced into a back room and tied to a pipe. He handed over money after Thornton grabbed the man’s genitals and threatened further violence.

Thornton’s attorney, Holly Trexler, had told the judge allowing the robbery conviction into the trial would “100 percent prevent him from testifying.” Lamont reserved decision on whether jurors would know Thornton is in prison for possession of stolen property.

Michael Mansion, the lawyer for Chaney, hoped to block his client’s five past convictions. The judge agreed to keep out four priors, the last of which was 1991. But he allowed the jury to hear about Chaney’s 2005 forgery-related conviction, should he testify.

Prosecutors informed the judge they need to withhold the names of a few select witnesses until after jury selection out of fear of possible witness intimidation. In turn, Feit asked for more details about the possible intimidation, but was rejected by the judge, who noted the prosecutors can wait until the jury selection is complete.

Earlier, Feit asked that the defendants be allowed to sit without handcuffs for the hearing. Lamont, noting they are charged with murder and security was limited, denied the request.

Prosecutors say Jackson awaiting a shipment of 500 pounds of marijuana when he was kidnapped for money and drugs. They allege kidnappers later went to Jackson’s home on Stoneridge Court, while Jackson remained at the Parkwood Street address. At some point, they say, Jackson died.

All three are charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy, kidnapping and burglary. They face 25 years to life in prison.

Davis, who pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping, faces 10 years in prison. Another expected witness, Gino “G” Uzzell, a drug partner of Jackson who targeted him for robbery, faces 7 to 21 years behind bars.

Reach Robert Gavin at 434-2403 or

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