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Jury fails to convict four men in Roosevelt Park murder

Only a handful of people know for sure what happened in Buffalo's Roosevelt Park on that cold December day eight years ago.

Yes, Jabril Harper died, the victim of two gunshot wounds to the head. But the allegations of a murder-for-profit scheme have always gone unproven.

After a nearly three-month trial in Buffalo federal court, a jury Thursday failed to reach a verdict against the two men, Ernest Green and Rodshaun Black, accused of shooting Harper and leaving him for dead.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Harper was murdered because of his reputation as a drug dealer and the expectation that he had both cash and cocaine with him.

The jury, after eight days of deliberations, also found Green and Black not guilty of kidnapping and robbing another alleged drug dealer. In all, they were found not guilty of about half the charges against them, while the jury couldn't decide on the rest.

"Obviously, they had problems with the government's version of what happened," defense lawyer Donald M. Thompson said of the 12 men and women deciding the case.

Following the partial verdict on Wednesday, a victory for the defense, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny asked the jury to make one last attempt at resolving the criminal charges that remained open.

Jurors resumed their deliberations Thursday morning but came back later in the day and told Skretny they were deadlocked. At that point, the judge declared a mistrial on the open, unresolved charges.

"A lot of the credit has to go to the jury," said defense lawyer J. Patrick Lennon. 'These people worked hard the whole time, and they just seemed really committed to their oath."

Throughout the trial, the defense conceded that yes, Harper was killed, but that the evidence was insufficient to prove Green and Black shot him.

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

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Green, Black and another defendant, Daniel Rodriquez, kidnapped Harper at gunpoint, robbed him of jewelry, drugs and money and then transported him to Roosevelt Park, where he was killed.

The FBI investigated and later charged the men in a nine-count indictment. The three men were also accused of conspiring with another defendant, Amilcar Ramos, to plan and carry out the robbery-turned-murder.

Ramos was acquitted of all the charges against him. The jury was divided on the charges against Rodriquez.

"Mr. Rodriquez has maintained his innocence from the beginning and is very much looking forward to a retrying of this matter," defense attorney Barry N. Covert said Thursday.

In their closing statements to the jury, defense lawyers went out of their way to question the motivations of the government's key witnesses, many of them convicted criminals looking for a break in their sentences.

"They heard what they wanted and what they needed," defense lawyer James P. Harrington said of the prosecution and its witnesses.

The jury's partial verdict prompted Skretny to ask the 12 men and women to resume deliberations, although the prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel L. Violanti and Michael Felicetta, pointed to the eight-day-long jury deliberations and asked instead for a mistrial.

"It's clear where the jury is at," Violanti told Skretny at one point. "In all my years, I've never seen a jury out this long."

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