For more than a decade, the slayings of Thedrus “Flap” Laster and Sam “Smokey” Jones Jr. went unsolved.
A jury deliberating the fate of three men accused of taking part in those cold-case killings returned Wednesday with a verdict that found them guilty, but not of murder.
After the longest jury deliberation in at least 25 years, the 12 jurors in U.S. District Court in Buffalo remained split on the role of Thamud Eldridge, Kevin Allen and Galen Rose in those killings.
The verdict, which came after six full days of deliberations, means that the prosecution must now decide whether to have the three men stand trial again.
“They obviously struggled with the credibility of the government’s witnesses, which included more than a dozen people they previously prosecuted,” said Cheryl Meyers Buth, a lawyer for Allen.
The jury also found itself hung on Rose’s role in the Laster slaying and Eldridge’s role in the Jones killing. The jury did find Eldridge not guilty of taking part in the Laster slaying.
“We took the position from the beginning that these were very old charges,” said David R. Addelman, a lawyer for Eldridge.
“We also believed the evidence was not strong enough to support a conviction.”
While the jury remained split on the murder charges, it did find Eldridge and Allen guilty of racketeering conspiracy, firearms possession and robbery charges. Rose was found guilty of drug charges.
“My client has always maintained his innocence,” Daniel J. Henry Jr., a lawyer for Rose, said of the Laster slaying. “They were very close friends, and (Rose) was extremely upset when he learned of his friends’ death.”
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., who was in the courtroom Wednesday, said the prosecution team will meet in the coming weeks to decide what to do about the charges that remain.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara has ordered the two sides to appear in court March 21 to discuss the future of the case.
“We’re certainly pleased with the verdicts rendered by the jury,” Hochul said, “and we’ll certainly avail ourselves of that time to decide what to do.”
Originally a death penalty case, the government’s prosecution of Eldridge, Allen and Rose was viewed early on as the first concrete effort to identify and prosecute the killers of Laster and Jones. The Department of Justice later withdrew the death penalty designation.
“We’re very happy with the work of our task force,” Adam S. Cohen, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo, said of the investigators in the case. “We’ll see how the process plays itself out as the case moves forward.”
It was the summer of 2005 when Laster and Jones were shot to death, but it wasn’t until now that the men accused of taking part in killings were brought to trial.
“It may be late for Smokey to get justice, and it may be late for Flap to get justice,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Tripi said in his summation, “but we do not forget.”
The killings were at the core of the government’s prosecution of Eldridge, Allen and Rose, and the verdict followed a four-week trial focusing on allegations that Eldridge and his crew killed, robbed and kidnapped rival drug dealers, some of them big-time suppliers.
The verdict also followed the testimony of several witnesses with criminal records of their own, some of them jailhouse informants still in prison.
“Some of the witnesses lie so much, I don’t think they know what to believe,” Buth told the jury at one point.
The defense also took note of “the elephant in the room,” a co-defendant who was named in the 2009 grand jury indictment against Eldridge, Allen and Rose but has since taken a plea deal.
Kashika Speed, who was charged with taking part in the Laster slaying, pleaded guilty in 2014 to robbery and extortion and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Speed did not testify against his former friends.
Security during the trial, already extensive, was enhanced after prosecutors reported two separate incidents of witnesses who were threatened, one of whom was shot at hours after he testified. He was not wounded.
When the defendants were charged in September 2009, prosecutors said Laster, 35, was fatally shot April 2, 2005, during a robbery at a Delaware Avenue apartment where he stored marijuana and cash.
Jones was killed four days later during a robbery. Authorities said Jones was a known drug dealer.
The murders were investigated by the FBI-led Safe Streets Task Force, which also includes Buffalo police, State Police and agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.