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Judge in Providence ends federal carjacking murder trial for Kenneth Day
Day still may face R.I indictment
By Amy Forliti, Associated Press, 02/26/02
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A federal judge on Tuesday acquitted one of the men accused in the carjacking murders of two college students, saying prosecutors failed to prove that Kenneth Day had committed a federal crime.
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux's ruling halted a federal trial in a case that had come to symbolize random urban violence.
But Lagueux said he expected Day would be indicted on state charges in the June 2000 slayings of Amy Shute, 21, of Coventry, and Jason Burgeson, 20, of Lakeville, Mass., and end up spending the rest of his life in state prison.
"He may rue the day that he didn't plead guilty and spend a limited time in a federal penitentiary," Lagueux said.
The victims' relatives sobbed as Lagueux issued his ruling. They offered no comment as they left the courtroom. Amy Shute's mother, Carol Shute, was crying and declined to comment when approached by a reporter from The Associated Press.
Ernest Burgeson, Jason Burgeson's father, declined comment, but told WJAR television that the decision left him stunned and devastated.
"I don't know where we get the strength," he said. "It's tough to face him in court, to know what they did.
"In our minds they were all directly involved," he said. "Anyone could've stopped it, and they didn't choose to. That makes them just as guilty."
He said he thought the government presented a good case, despite Lagueux's decision.
U.S. Attorney Margaret Curran said in a statement, "Our hearts go out to the Shute and Burgeson families, whose ordeal continues."
Day, 23, showed little reaction as the judge issued his ruling. He is being held without bail on unrelated state robbery charges.
"There are no winners in this case," said Day's attorney, Joseph DeCaporale. "I don't feel any sense of victory. ... I know it's very difficult on the families. The court had to make a very difficult decision based on the limited jurisdiction federal court has."
Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse said he will present the case to a state grand jury, but he didn't know how long an investigation would take.
Lagueux issued his decision after the prosecution had finished presenting its case. The jury was led out of the courtroom for a recess and DeCaporale asked the judge to acquit Day on federal charges.
Several jurors looked dumbfounded when Lagueux brought them back into the courtroom and gave them the news.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have brought you in to tell you this case is over," Lagueux said.
Day, 23, faced federal charges of conspiracy to commit carjacking and aiding and abetting in a carjacking resulting in death. He is the only one of five defendants to plead innocent in the case.
Four others -- triggerman Gregory Floyd, Raymond Anderson, Samuel Sanchez and Harry Burdick -- admitted abducting Shute and Burgeson from outside a downtown mall and taking them to a Johnston golf course, where they were shot in the head as they begged for their lives. The defendants made off with Burgeson's 1991 Ford Explorer and $18.
They were caught hours later as the triggerman drove around in Burgeson's car.
The state of Rhode Island has no death penalty, so prosecutors sought federal charges in the case.
Day's accomplices pleaded guilty to avoid the possibility of the death penalty. Floyd is to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The others are awaiting sentencing.
The U.S. Justice Department declined to pursue a death penalty case against Day after he already was charged in federal court.
"This case was driven by the fact that the state of Rhode Island does not have the death penalty," Lagueux said.
In issuing his ruling, Lagueux referred to the written definition of "carjacking" under federal law. He said that in order for a jury to convict Day on federal carjacking charges, the government must prove that Day had the intent to kill or cause serious bodily harm to the victims at the time the car was taken.
"There is nothing in this case to indicate that this defendant had that intent," Lagueux said.
Prosecutors said they disagreed, but respected the judge's decision.
"We believed that we had satisfactorily addressed those issues and that we presented a sound case that satisfied the elements of the statute," Curran said.
During the eight-day trial, two of Day's accomplices testified about what happened the night Shute and Burgeson were killed.
Shute, a University of Rhode Island student, and Burgeson, a student at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, had been out dancing and were carjacked at random by the men who were prowling the streets looking for someone to mug.
Anderson, 21, testified that Day did not want to steal Burgeson's vehicle, and that he did not know that Shute and Burgeson would be harmed.
Floyd, 21, testified that it was Day's idea to find someone in the city's downtown to rob. Floyd also testified that Day egged him on to shoot the couple because they'd seen his face.
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