Informant and jailhouse snitch testimony dominated yesterday's proceedings at the Ryan Frederick trial. Frederick is the 28-year-old Chesapeake, Virginia man facing murder charges for killing a police officer during a drug raid (see this wiki for more on Frederick's case). My prior coverage of his trial here. Virginian-Pilot coverage of yesterday's events here. Coverage from the local libertarian blog Tidewater Liberty here.
The star for most of yesterday was Steven Wright, the informant who tipped police off to Frederick, and who illegally broke into Frederick's home three nights before before the raid to obtain probable cause.
A few observations, before I excerpt from the Virginian-Pilot's coverage of his testimony:
• The Virginian-Pilot article doesn't mention it, but Wright was arrested a few days prior to the raid on charges of credit card theft and fraud. Those charges were dropped shortly after the raid, then reinstated months later, when Wright was arrested again. He was due to stand trial last month. Conveniently, his trial date was moved to tomorrow, two days after his testimony against Frederick.
• Wright's portrayal of Frederick as a vengeful killer with a gangsta' vibe runs contrary to everything I've heard about Frederick from neighbors, coworkers, and friends and family.
• According to Wright and the police detectives the state has put on the stand, Wright not only illegally broke into Frederick's home, he lied to police about it for months, possibly compromising not only a drug investigation, but an investigation into the killing of a police officer. Yet he's never been charged—not for the break-in, nor for lying about it for months.
Here's the Virginian-Pilot's account of Wrights testimony:
Ryan Frederick threatened to kill police informant Steven Rene Wright after learning that Wright broke into his garage and stole five marijuana plants, Wright testified at Frederick's murder trial Tuesday.
"I had a week to turn myself in to him or he was going to go after my family," Wright said from the witness stand. "He said he was going to… kill me if I didn't come."
Wright said he and a friend, Renaldo Turnbull Jr., broke into Frederick's garage on Jan. 14, 2008, and stole five of about 10 plants growing in a sophisticated hydroponic tent. They then went to another friend's house where they made a cell phone video of the plants.
The plants were never turned over to police, he said, but Frederick learned Wright took them and called with the threats.
Wright said he met Frederick earlier in 2007 while dating the sister of Frederick's fiancee.
In the six to eight months prior to the raid, Wright said, he'd been to Frederick's house at 932 Redstart Ave. 30 to 50 times; he saw the marijuana growing operation at almost every visit; and he smoked the drug with Frederick and others. He said Frederick even explained to him how the hydroponic system produced superior cannabis.
Wright said he became a police informant after seeking help from a drug dealer in an unrelated case who threatened him. He said police paid him $60 for information that led to the arrest of that dealer.
Despite being limited by the judge to testifying about one or two marijuana sales between November 2007 and the night of the raid, Wright blurted out that he bought marijuana from Frederick some 20 to 30 times throughout 2007.
Wright insists he was never asked by Chesapeake police to break into Frederick's home. Rather, he said he did so voluntarily as part of a scheme he planned with several friends. They'd steal half the plants, then leave the other half for the police to find after Wright tipped them off. The problem for the prosecution, here, is that in order to believe Wright's testimony, they'll also have to accept his own testimony that he's a habitual liar who routinely spins out falsehoods when it's in his interest.
The state then called Jamal Skeeter, a jailhouse snitch with a long felony record. From the Tidewater Liberty blog:
Mr. Skeeter said that he had been in the Chesapeake jail for a period of about 10 days in June of 2008. He had been brought here from the Correctional facility at Lawrenceville, where he was serving a 14 year sentence. He was here to testify as a witness in another case.
He wore red coveralls, indicating that he is in solitary confinement. (Mr. Frederick has been in solitary confinement throughout his entire stay at the jail). He said that in June he was in the gym (on his one hour daily "break") when "someone" pointed Mr. Frederick out (thru a glass door) as "the guy who shot a policeman." Mr. Skeeter somehow arranged to speak to Mr. Frederick (through a glass door) and that Mr. Frederick immediately "broke out in a story" saying that he knew he was shooting a cop, but that he was trying to get off on self-defense.
He said Mr. Frederick told him that he was high when the police got to his house, and that he had hollow points in his gun. When asked about Mr. Frederick's demeanor, Mr. Skeeter said he "was trying to be a gangsta" and didn't seem sorry for what he had done.
Mr. Skeeter claimed that he has made no deal with anyone, and that he's doing this (testifying against Mr. Frederick) for Det Shivers family because "it ain't right."
To sum, the career felon Mr. Skeeter took interest in Frederick after "someone" told him Frederick shot a cop. In their first conversation, through a glass door, during an hour-long break in the jail's gym, Frederick apparently confessed everything to Mr. Skeeter. Skeeter, the felon, then contacted prosecutors, not to get time off his own sentence, but because of the overwhelming sense of empathy he felt for the dead cop's family, and because Frederick's confession violated his own personal sense of right and wrong.
Sure. Sounds plausible.
The state then called jailhouse informant Lamont Malone, who is serving time for seven different felonies. Malone has already testified once against someone else, resulting in a reduction in his sentence from life to about 19 years.
Again from Tidewater Liberty:
He said he is currently in the Chesapeake jail (he has also been in Suffolk and Portsmouth), and has "gotten to know" Mr. Frederick. He said Mr. Frederick's jailhouse nickname is "Calvin." He said that Mr. Frederick calls his gun "Roscoe" and that Mr. Frederick shot the police after they kicked in his door because he "panicked" and "had to get rid of his product." He said that Mr. Frederick told him that he grew "Hydro" and that he had to get rid of his plants. He didn't say how he did this.
He said that Mr. Frederick told him that he wanted to keep his case in Chesapeake because of the support, and that he expects that his lawyer is going to get him off.. He said that Mr. Frederick has expressed no remorse.
He said that Mr. Frederick makes unkind comments about Mrs. Shivers, and that he doesn't seem sorry for what he did. He said that Mr. Frederick has been "laughing it up" with another prisoner, who is facing similar charges.
Laying it on thick, aren't they?
When weighing yesterday's testimony against Frederick's story, it's probably useful to remember that Frederick had no prior criminal record, and had a full-time job that required him to get up early in the morning (with kind words from his employers). Friends and neighbors described him to me last year as a shy, introverted guy who smoked pot recreationally.
It'll be interesting to see if Renaldo Turnbull gets called to testify, and what his testimony might look like if he does.