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United States v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 17, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
Kevin Darnell Williams, also known as Splash Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: September 28, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines

          Before LOKEN, BENTON, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.


         Following a jury trial, Kevin Darnell Williams was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, interference with commerce by robbery (or a Hobbs Act robbery), using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking offense or a crime of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Each count stemmed from the robbery and shooting of an individual from whom Williams had arranged to purchase large amounts of marijuana. The district court[1] sentenced Williams to 270 months imprisonment. Williams appeals both his convictions and sentence, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that his 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) conviction must be vacated because a Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence, and that the district court sentenced him to a prison term for the conspiracy count that exceeded the statutory maximum, mandating that his sentence be vacated and he be re-sentenced as to all counts. Having jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.


         On August 6, 2016, Williams began communicating via text message with an individual named Leonard Boyd to inquire about purchasing marijuana. Williams first sent Boyd a message stating, "Watz good this splash." Boyd informed Williams that he was running low on marijuana but would soon be traveling to get more, stating "I'm about to go out of town today all i have is 2 zones left." Williams asked Boyd to "[l]et me know when u come back i need that like asap." On August 8, Williams communicated via text message with another individual, Vyagales Shaw. Shaw, who was known by the nickname "V," initiated the conversation by sending Williams a message stating, "it was only 2.1 you trying to get him some more," to which Williams responded, "yeah." Williams and Shaw continued to communicate about when Williams would have more marijuana.

         Boyd subsequently traveled to Colorado where he, his girlfriend, and another individual made legal purchases of canisters of marijuana from licensed Colorado marijuana dispensaries. Boyd then returned to Iowa with the marijuana. On August 9, after his return, Boyd sent Williams a message stating, "I got 7 more . . . U want it," to which Williams replied, "How much you want for it." Boyd responded, "1750 and they're all different so you don't just have the same thing . . . you don't want it." Williams responded, "Yeah I can do that." Williams provided Boyd the address of an apartment complex in Ames, Iowa, where the two were to complete the transaction. Williams then communicated via text message with Shaw, explaining that Boyd was on the way to the address Williams provided in Ames. Williams and Shaw exchanged messages about traveling to the location together and arrived at the apartment complex together in the same vehicle.

         Later that same day, officers responded to a 911 call reporting shots fired on the same street discussed in the text messages between Williams and Boyd. When officers arrived, they discovered Boyd lying in the street suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. A witness took a cell phone video of the immediate aftermath of the shooting before police officers arrived. The video depicted the scene and included the witness's voice stating that a black male with long hair fled the scene on foot while another black male with "like no hair" fled the scene in a sedan, noting the exact license plate. Another witness reported that she saw two men arguing behind a car and was "pretty sure" she saw a black male with long hair holding a gun. She then looked away from the scene, but went outside after hearing what "sounded like fireworks" and saw Boyd on the ground. This witness administered aid to Boyd until law enforcement arrived. During this time, Boyd's girlfriend, who was also present at the scene, told the witness that Boyd knew his shooter and identified the shooter to the witness by his nickname, which the witness remembered being short and starting with the letter "S."

         Another witness went outside to the scene after hearing a loud noise. He observed a black male with longer hair exit from a nearby apartment by kicking out a window. The witness and the man looked directly at each other before the man fled on foot. Law enforcement later determined that the apartment from which the witness had observed the man exit via the kicked-out window belonged to Williams's girlfriend. Officers executed a search warrant on this apartment the same day, during which they observed numerous indicia of residency for both Williams and his girlfriend, and seized two firearms, one bearing Williams's fingerprint; two boxes of ammunition, both bearing Williams's fingerprint; a large bag of marijuana; and several Ziploc bags bearing Williams's fingerprints. Officers later obtained text messages between Williams and his girlfriend, exchanged on the same day as the shooting, where Williams instructed his girlfriend to "[g]et all that shit out ur house. Now."

         While responding to the scene, another officer, who had received the radio report with the witness description of the vehicle leaving the scene, spotted a sedan that matched the description, including the exact license plate. The vehicle was driving away from the shooting location. The officer initiated a traffic stop roughly two blocks away from the shooting location. The individual driving the stopped vehicle, a black male with short hair, was identified as Shaw. While he was being placed into the patrol car, Shaw asked the officer to retrieve his cell phone. When the officer retrieved the phone, he observed that Shaw was receiving an incoming call from someone listed as "Splash." The officer later obtained information from the wireless provider, pursuant to a warrant, for the phone number associated with "Splash" and determined that the phone was in the name of Williams's girlfriend and that geolocation data showed that the phone was accessing cell phone data from towers near the shooting location at the time of the shooting.

         A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed the presence of a backpack in the back seat, which contained two canisters of marijuana, bags containing marijuana residue, and a digital scale with marijuana residue on it. The search also uncovered a black canvas bag in the vehicle's trunk. Inside this bag, officers observed seven silver canisters that bore labels stating that the canisters contained specified weights of marijuana. Each canister was full. Subsequent laboratory testing revealed that the substance inside the containers was marijuana. Based on the identification of the dispensaries from which the marijuana was purchased and surveillance videos of the purchases, police traced these canisters back to the purchases Boyd and two other individuals made in Colorado. The canvas bag also contained Ziploc bags and a handgun. Later ballistics analysis confirmed that the shell casings at the shooting scene were fired from this handgun. In addition, both Williams and Shaw had been captured on surveillance video eleven days before the shooting in an Ames store examining and expressing interest in purchasing two firearms through a third-party straw man purchaser. The gun used in the shooting and one of the firearms and the ammunition recovered from Williams's girlfriend's apartment were shown being purchased on this surveillance video.

         On August 10, the day following the shooting, Shaw sent Williams a text message stating, "Just lmk when you read to link I'm bout to try and go crazy out there." Williams responded "im gone let uk when im ready bro jus know when I come im coming hard so we gone have to go all in this shit def for te long haul bro." Williams also exchanged text messages with another woman, discussing the fact that he was on his way to Chicago. The woman replied that there had been a newspaper article about the incident that identified Williams as the shooter and implied that Shaw's only involvement had been as a driver. This woman expressed her view that "I really feel like he told on baby." Williams and Shaw exchanged text messages again the following day. Williams stated, in part "Wat I hear play by play we in this shit together so I will never leave u in the dark." Shaw responded that "we def in this shit together I'm certified in it and out of jail keep yo head up too." Williams was eventually apprehended in Chicago. While in custody, he was recorded on telephone calls discussing the shooting. In one call, Williams stated that he implicated himself in the shooting by jumping out of the window of his girlfriend's apartment.

         Williams was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(C); one count of interference with commerce by robbery (or a Hobbs Act robbery), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951; one count of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense and/or a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Before trial, Williams filed a motion to dismiss the § 924(c) count on the basis that a Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence and thus could not serve as a predicate offense. The district court denied the motion, and the matter proceeded to jury trial.

         The jury convicted Williams on all counts. The district court sentenced Williams to 150 months imprisonment for the conspiracy count, 150 months imprisonment for the Hobbs Act robbery count, 120 months imprisonment for the § 924(c) count, and 120 months imprisonment for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court ordered the sentences for three counts (the conspiracy, Hobbs Act robbery, and felon-in-possession counts) to run concurrently and ordered ...

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