The racketeering murder trial of Mongols Motorcycle Club patch holder Christopher “Stoney” Ablett was scheduled to go to the jury late today.
Ablett was tried for killing Hells Angels San Francisco charter President Mark “Papa” Guardado in a street fight in San Francisco in September 2008. There is no doubt that Ablett killed Guardado.
Ablett has testified that he stabbed Guardado four times and shot him twice. One of the stab wounds was potentially fatal. One of the gunshots, fired into Guardado’s chest, was probably fatal. A second gun shot wound to the head was undoubtedly fatal.
Self Defense Or Racketeering
Ablett’s lawyers argued that he acted in self defense. Prosecutors took the position that Ablett had committed four racketeering offenses: Murder in aid of racketeering; use of a firearm in a murder; and use of a firearm in furtherance of a racketeering crime of violence; and assault with a deadly weapon.
The government’s aim was to prove that the Mongols Motorcycle Club was a criminal racket at the time of Guardado’s death. It took until July 2009 for prosecutors to federalize the case. The same prosecutors took another 30 months to prepare for the trial. It hindsight it looks like they were stalling. The Assistant U.S. Attorney probably doubted his case from the start.
Two of the government’s witnesses, professional agents provocateur John Ciccone and Darrin Kozlowski have a track record of convincing grand juries and federal magistrates. Ciccone’s search warrant affidavits are practically literary in their creativity and doublespeak. But neither man appeared to do well in this trial under cross examination.
Ablett, however was candid. His story was that he was enjoying an evening out with two women friends. He would never have had the opportunity to kill Guardado if his motorcycle had not shut down at a critical moment and if two eager bystanders had not complained to Guardado about “Mongols down on Treat (street).”
Guardado, who weighed 80 pounds more than Ablett, knocked the defendant down. Ablett testified that he saw a second assailant running toward him and he stabbed Guardado so he would have a chance to confront this second threat. Ablett testified that he was in fear for his life and that he was shot at by three more assailants in a Sport Utility Vehicle. Ablett said he shot Guardado because he was confronted by multiple threats and because Guardado didn’t stop attacking after Ablett punched and stabbed him. Ablett said he did not intend to shoot Guardado in the head and that he left a round in the cylinder of his revolver.
Much of Ablett’s story was substantiated by other witnesses and the prosecution probably lost because although they badgered Ablett on the stand they had trouble discrediting him.
The final prosecution witness, called to tarnish Ablett’s testimony was a Bartlesville, Oklahoma cop named Eric Peterson. Ablett talked to Peterson at 5:30 p.m. the day he turned himself in. Peterson wrote Ablett’s words down on a single sheet of paper two minutes before Ablett was Mirandized at 5:32 p.m.
“I’d rather not talk about it. I’ll take the Fifth,” Ablett told Peterson as he turned himself in.
“Why did you turn yourself in,” Peterson asked.
To which Ablett replied according to the handwritten notes, “I didn’t kill him.”
Last week prosecutors gloated over Ablett changing his story. First, according to the Oklahoma cop, Ablett denied killing Guardado. Then years later Ablett admitted he had. This inconsistency in Ablett’s official statements may have swayed the jury but it probably did not. Probably the jury saw the prosecution as mean spirited. And, watching the video of Ablett walking into the police station also allowed jurors to see Ablett wearing a “Jesus Saves” tee shirt.
The Motorcycle Gang Menace
The defense hammered the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club throughout the trial and the prosecution did not argue in defense of Guardado’s reputation. None of the members of Guardado’s entourage the night he died were identified. Instead jurors heard that Guardado was dangerous and that the Hells Angels are dangerous. The jury also learned that as Ablett began his month long flight in his father’s truck he found what appeared to be a cell phone bomb under the floor boards.
In its closing argument today, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Ciccone and Kozlowski about the criminality of the Mongols. The jury may be swayed by that or they may decide that the racketeering charges are preposterous.
Ablett may also be found guilty of a lesser charge like manslaughter or second degree murder. But to prove either the prosecutors would also have to prove that Ablett acted recklessly or with malice. By his own admission, Ablett was there with a gun and a knife and he did shoot Guardado in the head while the dying man was lying on the ground. However, the jury may simply decide that Ablett acted “passionately” in that moment.
In A Nutshell
In the end the case boils down to a simple decision: Did Ablett act in self defense or did he see and seize an opportunity to kill a member of a “rival motorcycle gang.”
The government has been trying to prove the Gangland version of this story for weeks. Prosecutors have argued that motorcycle clubs are mafias, that the undercover agents who infiltrate those mafias are very moral and brave, and that average people are just too naïve to even begin to understand how immoral members of the Hells Angels and Mongols truly are. The government’s argument is well worn. It will not be the first time the jurors have heard it. They may even believe it.
The speed with which a jury returns a verdict usually indicates the thoroughness with which it is deliberating and the amount of evidence it is reviewing. Ablett’s attorneys offered a straightforward defense in this case so if the jury sgrees with the defense Ablett could be free in days. The prosecution’s case is more difficult to summarize quickly. So the longer the jury deliberates the more likely it will be to find Christopher Ablett guilty.