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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, District Circuit

May 24, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RICO RODRIGUS WILLIAMS, Defendant.

OPINION AND RESTITUTION ORDER

PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, District Judge.

On April 20, 2012, this Court sentenced defendant Rico Rodrigus Williams to twenty-two years of incarceration on his conviction on one count of second degree murder and ten years of incarceration on his conviction on one count of witness tampering, the sentences to run concurrently. The Court also imposed five years of supervised release, with conditions, following the period of incarceration. At sentencing, the Court heard brief argument from counsel regarding restitution. The Court informed the defendant that restitution would be ordered but, pursuant to statutory authorization, see 18 U.S.C. § 3664(d)(5), it deferred determination of the amount of restitution until after the government and the defendant had the opportunity to file supplemental briefs on the issue. This briefing is now complete. Upon careful consideration of the parties' initial sentencing memoranda and supplemental briefs, including letters from experts attached as exhibits, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court will order restitution to the estate of the deceased, Sergeant Juwan Johnson, in the amount of $756, 000.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant Rico Rodrigus Williams, a former member of the United States Air Force, killed Army Sergeant Juwan Johnson during a Gangster Disciples gang initiation that took place on July 3, 2005, near the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. On November 15, 2010, after a twelve-day jury trial, Mr. Williams was found guilty of one count of second degree murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111(a), and one count of witness tampering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3). See Verdict Form at 1-2. The Court subsequently denied defendant's post-trial motions for judgment of acquittal and for a new trial. See June 3, 2011 Tr., Dkt. No. 150; Order, Dkt. No. 161 (Nov. 17, 2011) (denying motion on count two); Order, Dkt. No. 163 (Nov. 17, 2011) (denying motion on count one).

The parties then filed sentencing memoranda with the Court. The government sought a sentence of life imprisonment, while Mr. Williams urged the Court to sentence him to no more than ten years of incarceration. In addition, the government requested that the Court order Mr. Williams to pay $250, 000 in restitution for Sergeant Johnson's lost future income, pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. § 3663A ("MVRA"). The government estimated that Sergeant Johnson would have earned approximately $1, 600, 000 over the course of his lifetime, far in excess of what the government mistakenly believed was a $250, 000 statutory cap on restitution. See Govt.'s Mem. at 21. Mr. Williams, through counsel, conceded that restitution may be ordered in cases such as his, but he challenged the government's estimate as purely speculative. Def.'s Initial Reply at 8.

On April 20, 2012, the Court sentenced Mr. Williams to imprisonment for a period of twenty-two years on his second degree murder conviction and ten years on the witness tampering count, the two sentences to run concurrently. See Apr. 20, 2012 Tr. at 99; Judgment at 3. The Court also concluded that Mr. Williams was required to pay restitution but that more information was required before it could determine the appropriate amount. Apr. 20, 2012 Tr. at 99.[2] Upon agreement by the parties, the Court postponed determination of the restitution amount until after the government and the defendant filed supplemental briefs. Id. at 60-64, 99; Judgment at 5, 7.[3]

Despite its earlier view, the government, in its Addendum to its Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing, now correctly notes that no statutory cap applies in this case. Govt.'s Addendum at 1-2 n.1. It therefore requests that the defendant be ordered to pay the full value of Sergeant Johnson's lost future earnings, which the government estimates to be $756, 000. Govt.'s Reply at 1, 9-10. Mr. Williams maintains that the government has based its estimate of the victim's lost income on mere speculation, thereby failing to meet its burden of proving the amount of the victim's losses by a preponderance of the evidence. Def.'s Opp'n at 7-8. He also argues that the statute does not provide for restitution for the lost future income of a deceased victim. Id. at 5-6.

II. ANALYSIS

A. The MVRA Applies in this Case

Courts have no inherent authority to order restitution; they may do so only as authorized by statute. See United States v. Papagno , 639 F.3d 1093, 1096 (D.C. Cir. 2011). In this case, restitution is both authorized and mandated by the MVRA, 18 U.S.C. § 3663A, which requires defendants convicted of certain crimes to pay restitution to the victim, or the estate of the victim, for losses proximately caused by the defendant's criminal conduct. The statute provides as follows:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, when sentencing a defendant convicted of an offense described in subsection (c), the court shall order, in addition to... any other penalty authorized by law, that the defendant make restitution to the victim of the offense or, if the victim is deceased, to the victim's estate.

18 U.S.C. § 3663A(a). Subsection (c) provides that the MVRA applies in sentencing proceedings for convictions of certain offenses, including any offense that constitutes a crime of violence. Id . § 3663A(c)(1)(A)(i).

Second degree murder undoubtedly is a crime of violence. See 18 U.S.C. § 16(b) (defining crime of violence as offense containing element of physical force against person or property of another or involving substantial risk of such force); United States v. Serawop , 505 F.3d 1112, 1114-15 and n.1 (10th Cir. 2007) (applying MVRA to lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter). The MVRA therefore applies to Mr. Williams' conviction for second degree murder. For that reason, this Court must order restitution to Sergeant Johnson's estate "in the full amount of [his] losses [resulting from the murder] as determined by the Court and without consideration of the economic circumstances of the defendant." 18 U.S.C. § 3664(f)(1)(A).

B. The MVRA Requires Restitution for Lost Income in this Case

Mr. Williams raises a threshold question of whether restitution for lost income is authorized under subsection (b) of Section 3663A. See Def.'s Opp'n at 5 ("[Section] 3663A seemingly does not provide for restitution of lost income as a ...


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