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Weatherman Brinks Trials: 1983

A Straightforward Case

Defendants: First trial: Cecilio Ferguson and Edward Joseph; second trial: Kuwasi Balagoon, Judith Clark, and David Gilbert
Crimes Charged: First trial: Murder, robbery, racketeering, and conspiracy; second trial: Murder and robbery
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: Jesse Berman, Chowke Lumumba, and William Mogulescu; second trial: The accused
Chief Prosecutors: First trial: Robert S. Litt, Stacey J. Moritz, and Paul E. Summit; second trial: Kenneth Gribetz
Judges: First trial: Kevin T. Duffy; second trial: David S. Ritter
Places: First trial: New York, New York; second trial: Goshen, New York
Dates of Trials: First trial: April 13-September 3, 1983; second trial: July 11-September 15, 1983
Verdicts: First trial: Not guilty of murder/robbery, guilty of acting as accessories after the fact; second trial: all defendants found guilty
Sentences: First trial: 121/2 years; second trial: 25 years to life

SIGNIFICANCE: Political dissent in America has a long, often violent history. Of all the extremist groups that sprang from the seventies, none was more prepared to continue that bloody tradition than a band of black rights activists who called themselves the Weather Underground.

Ten years of Weather Underground politico/criminal mayhem culminated in a botched robbery of a Brinks armored vehicle in October 1981. In making off with $1.6 million, robbers killed one guard and two policeman. After a chase four people were arrested. Over the next 15 months several more suspects were rounded up. The complexity of the case necessitated multiple trials.

In the first hearing, which opened April 13, 1983, Cecilio Ferguson and Edward Joseph stood trial with four other Weather Underground members, none of whom was charged with the Brinks robbery. The government, perplexed by how best to proceed against a gang which had been robbing and killing for much of the preceding decade, had decided on a catch-all federal action against this batch of Weathermen. One component of the prosecution was the Brinks robbery.

Before the trial, defense attorneys William Mogulescu and Jesse Berman won an important victory when they persuaded Judge Kevin Duffy that the prosecution should not be allowed to call two other gang members whose testimony was considered unreliable. However, they were less successful in keeping Tyrone Rison off the stand. He readily admitted his own complicity in the murderous robbery.

"You had the M-16 rifle, is that right?" asked defense attorney, Chowke Lumumba.

"That's correct."

"And you shot the gun at the guard who was on the ground?"

"That's correct."

"A man who was totally disarmed and helpless?"

"That's correct."

And so it went. Defense counsel depicted Rison as a thug who had done a deal with the government in exchange for a 12-year sentence, questioning whether such a man should escape so leniently while the defendants faced a lifetime behind bars?

The jury thought not. On September 3, 1983, they convicted Ferguson and Joseph only of being accessories after the fact, an outcome the defense team jubilantly declared "a defeat for the government."

Judge Duffy had a different view. Sentencing both defendants to 121/2 years imprisonment, he commented, "I have never understood juries."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988