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Four accused in murder-for-profit plot will challenge witnesses

On a cold December day in 2009, Jabril Harper was shot twice in the head and left for dead in Buffalo's Roosevelt Park.

Harper was murdered, prosecutors say, because of his reputation as a drug dealer and the expectation that he was rolling in cash and cocaine.

Eight years later, the two men accused of targeting Harper as part of a murder-for-profit scheme are standing trial in Buffalo federal court.

"Ernest Green and Rodshaun Black walked the victim into the dark grassy area of Roosevelt Park, put him on his knees, and fired two shots, killing him simply because he was a drug dealer," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel L. Violanti told the jury during opening statements Tuesday.

Green and Black are accused of kidnapping Harper at gunpoint, robbing him of jewelry, drugs and money and then transporting him to Roosevelt Park, where he was killed.

Charged in a nine-count indictment, Green and Black are also accused of conspiring with two others, Daniel Rodriguez and Amilcar Ramos, to plan and carry out the robbery-turned-murder.

In their opening statements to the jury, defense lawyers made it clear they intend to challenge the credibility of the government's key witnesses, many of whom have pending criminal cases of their own.

"They're willing to lie," said defense lawyer Donald M. Thompson. "They are creating stories and selling them to the government."

Lawyers for the four defendants say the government's case is rooted in the testimony of witnesses eager to cooperate with the prosecution in return for a break in their sentences.

One of those witnesses, they noted, is now facing four years in prison instead of 30 years.

"He's gone from 30 to 4," said defense lawyer James P. Harrington. "How did he do that?"

Prosecutors counter by noting that, other than Black and Green, the only eye witness to the murder was Harper.

"Jabril Harper can't testify," Violanti said, pointing to Black and Green. "These two individuals made sure of it. They put two bullets in his head."

Green and Black, who also face allegations in connection with the robbery of a second drug dealer, who was not murdered, are charged with kidnapping, extortion, robbery and discharge of a weapon resulting in death.

Their trial, which is the result of an investigation by the FBI, Buffalo Police and New York State Parole, will continue Thursday.



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