Man charged with illegally transferring machine guns loses bid to be tried separately from codefendants

By Jon Campisi | Mar 22, 2012

A man who is being charged in connection with his role in a theft, and subsequent plot to sell firearms stolen from a federal gun dealer has lost his bid to be tried separately from the other defendants in the case.

In a March 20 order, federal Judge R. Barclay Surrick of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a motion for severance that had been filed by William Tripp, who was charged alongside three codefendants in a superseding indictment on Feb. 28, 2012.

Tripp was charged with receiving, possessing, concealing, storing, bartering or selling firearms in violation of federal law; possessing firearms not registered; and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon.

The alleged conspiracy revolves around the theft of fully automatic machine guns, firearms and ammunition from a truck belonging to a federal firearms licensee in December 2008, and the subsequent storage and sale of the stolen items, according to information on the case contained within the judge’s order.

Tripp is not being charged with conspiracy, since he had no part in the theft or storage of the stolen guns and components, but one of the acts in the conspiracy count alleges that Tripp did arrange for the transfer one of two of the stolen machine guns that had been given to him by one of the other codefendants, the order states.

The separate counts against Tripp relate to this “overt act,” the order states.

On March 5, Tripp filed a motion with the court to be tried separately from the other codefendants since there appears to be a “serious risk of prejudice” as a result of the complexity of the case, his lack of involvement in the conspiracy, and the differences in “alleged culpability among all of the Defendants,” according to the judicial order.

The government, however, responded by saying that Tripp has failed to show prejudice by any “spill over” effect caused by the evidence that will be presented at trial.

Additionally, the government argued that a reasonable jury should be able to sort out Tripp’s role in the alleged conspiracy from that of the other codefendants.

Surrick agreed with the prosecution.

“We are satisfied that Defendant has not made a showing of clear and substantial prejudice to warrant a severance and separate trial with respect to the counts alleged against him,” the judge wrote. “The case is not so complex as to prejudice Defendant.”

The judge further wrote that while Tripp is not named in the conspiracy count in the indictment, his criminal conduct is related to the overall acts alleged in support of the conspiracy.

“Thus, all Defendants are alleged to have participated in the ‘same series of acts or transactions’ which constituted the offenses charged in the Second Superseding Indictment,” the ruling states.

Surrick also struck down Tripp’s argument that he will be prejudiced by the “overwhelming majority of evidence” against his codefendants, citing case law that states a defendant is not entitled to a severance simply because evidence against a codefendant is more damaging than the evidence against the moving party.

“The charges against Defendant relate to a single purchase and subsequent sale of firearms,” the ruling states. “It is highly unlikely that a jury will confuse the evidence presented against Defendant since the evidence relates to this one event, and the counts with which Defendant is charged do not name any of the Codefendants.”


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