United States of America v. Key (Key)
OPINION, affirming the district court judgment, by DC, SLC, B. COGAN, FILED. [15-1057]
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page1 of 40
United States v. Babilonia
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
August Term 2016
September 29, 2016
April 17, 2017)
Docket Nos. 14‐3739‐cr, 15‐651‐cr, 15‐1057‐cr
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
AISHA BABILONIA, RUBEN DAVIS, AKA Bloddy Ruben, AKA Fat Man,
AKA Fat Boy, ROGER KEY, AKA Sealed Defendant 1, AKA Luchie,
RUBEN FERNANDEZ, AKA Pops, RICHARD PALMER, AKA P.O., AKA P.O.P., PEDRO
MARQUEZ, AKA Burns, AKA Bern, ANDREA ISAROON, AKA Chaz, DENNIS
FREDERICKS, AKA Ice, CLAYTON MOLLETTE, AKA Killer, AKA Clay, STEVEN
HERBERT, AKA Atta, SHUNDU DAVIS, AKA Davis Shundu, JAMES MARTIN, DEXTER
ERBY, AKA Addi, AKA Dida, YOUSSOUF DIOMADE, MOUSTAPHA GUEYE,
KHALILAH MATTOCKS, AKA Lils, JOSE CAPRIATA, GEORGE DAVIS, AKA Chee Chee,
KEITH PURVIS, AKA Kiz,
The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to amend the official caption to
conform to the above.
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page2 of 40
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
CHIN and CARNEY, Circuit Judges,
and COGAN, District Judge.*
Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the
Southern District of New York (Stein, J.) convicting defendant‐appellant Roger
Key, after a jury trial, of charges relating to drug trafficking and murder‐for‐hire.
Key appeals his convictions on several grounds, including the sufficiency of the
evidence as to the pecuniary value element of conspiracy to commit murder‐for‐
hire and the propriety of admitting evidence from warrantless searches of his car
MARGARET GARNETT, Assistant United States
Attorney (Abigail Kurland, Assistant
United States Attorney, on the brief), for Joon
H. Kim, Acting United States Attorney for
Judge Brian M. Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of New York, sitting by designation.
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page3 of 40
the Southern District of New York, New
York, New York, for Appellee.
ROBERT CALIENDO (Marc Fernich, on the brief),
Law Office of Marc Fernich, New York,
New York, for Defendant‐Appellant Roger
CHIN, Circuit Judge:
Defendant‐appellant Roger Key appeals from a judgment of the
district court (Stein, J.) convicting him of, inter alia, conspiracy to commit
murder‐for‐hire and several drug‐ and firearm‐related offenses. Key principally
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for
participating in the murder‐for‐hire conspiracy targeting Terry Harrison and the
admission at trial of evidence seized during an August 6, 2012 car stop and
search (the ʺCar Stopʺ) and a September 19, 2012 search of Keyʹs apartment (the
ʺApartment Searchʺ). Because we conclude that the evidence offered at trial to
prove the pecuniary value element of Keyʹs conviction for conspiracy to commit
murder‐for‐hire was sufficient to support the guilty verdict and that the
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challenged searches and seizures did not violate the Fourth Amendment, we
affirm the judgment of the district court.1
Keyʹs appeal relates to charges arising out of his involvement in a
Bronx‐ and Manhattan‐based drug trafficking operation and the murder‐for‐hire
plots targeting Terry Harrison, a rival drug dealer, and Matthew Allen, the
abusive boyfriend of defendant‐appellant Aisha Babilonia.2 The following facts,
generally undisputed, are summarized from the testimony at the suppression
hearing, the district courtʹs factual findings following the suppression hearing,
and the transcript of the trial below. With respect to the district courtʹs factual
findings, we review for clear error. United States v. Hussain, 835 F.3d 307, 313 (2d
Cir. 2016). With respect to the evidence presented at trial, we construe the facts
ʺin the light most favorable to the government, crediting any inferences that the
We address in an accompanying summary order filed today the appeals of
Aisha Babilonia and Ruben Davis, Keyʹs co‐defendants.
Key appeals his convictions on charges relating to Allenʹs murder only
insofar as they were the product of evidence seized during the Car Stop and Apartment
Search. Accordingly, the details of the plan to murder Allen are not recounted.
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jury might have drawn in its favor.ʺ United States v. Rosemond, 841 F.3d 95, 99‐
100 (2d Cir. 2016).
In 2010, Key was released from prison after serving several years on
state manslaughter and federal narcotics convictions. Upon his release, and until
his arrest in connection with the instant case in September 2012, Key distributed
millions of dollarsʹ worth of cocaine to drug organizations in the Bronx and
upper Manhattan. One of Keyʹs biggest customers was defendant‐appellant
Ruben Davis, who led a Harlem‐based drug trafficking organization. Keyʹs
distribution operation used multiple stash houses around the Bronx and upper
Manhattan and guns to protect their territory and attack rival dealers. Key also
oversaw a group of young men who sold crack cocaine for him around the
apartment building located at 321 East 153rd Street (ʺ321ʺ).
The Murder of Terry Harrison
Terry Harrison, also known as ʺT‐Money,ʺ was another Bronx‐based
drug dealer and a rival of Key. Key and his associates were involved in an
ongoing, violent dispute with Harrison and a local street gang, ʺGFC,ʺ that sold
drugs for him.
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In the summer of 2010, Matthew Davis (ʺMattʺ), an associate of Key,
approached Kevin Wilson about committing a murder.3 Wilson and Matt knew
each other, and Wilson was aware that Matt had recently returned home from
prison. While Wilson was leaving his childʹs motherʹs house, a minivan pulled
up, with Matt inside. Matt told Wilson to get into the van. Wilson did so; inside
were Matt, the driver, and one or two people in the back.
After exchanging pleasantries, Matt told Wilson that he needed
Wilson to ʺdress someone upʺ for him. Tr. 907. Matt explained that he needed
Wilson to kill someone for him, ʺlike now.ʺ Tr. 907. One of the passengers in the
back put a gun to Wilsonʹs head, while Matt instructed Wilson that ʺyou gonna
do it or we gonna kill you.ʺ Tr. 907. Wilson agreed to commit the murder.4 He
gave Matt his phone number, and Matt said he would call Wilson. Wilson did
not call the police or ask anyone else for help after his conversation with Matt.
Matt called Wilson the next day and then went to meet him. They
took a cab to 321, which Matt referred to as ʺHeadquarters.ʺ There, Matt
introduced Wilson to Kyle Harris, or ʺBeans,ʺ another individual who sold drugs
Matthew Davis is not related to defendant‐appellant Ruben Davis.
Despite the threat, Wilson testified that he agreed to commit the murder
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for Key. After Beans left, Matt introduced Wilson to Keith Burges, or ʺCuzzo,ʺ
and the three of them walked into the lobby of 321. Beans returned to the lobby
and retrieved two handguns from a staircase. He banged on a mailbox with his
fist to open it and put the guns inside.
Wilson spent three or four days with Matt and his associates at 321.
During that time, Matt told Wilson that there had been a change of plans; Cuzzo
would be the primary shooter, and Wilson would be the backup. Wilson
understood this to mean he would be responsible for shooting at anyone who
shot at Cuzzo. At no point prior to the murder did Wilson know the targetʹs
identity; he learned Harrisonʹs name after he was arrested.
Wilson never asked Matt why Matt wanted him to kill someone,
who the target was, or what he would get in exchange. Wilson hoped to get
money out of his agreement to kill Harrison, but no one discussed a specific
dollar amount for Wilsonʹs compensation prior to the murder. He hoped to
become part of a team, with ʺpeople by [his] side.ʺ Tr. 919. He further testified
that ʺMatt was basically telling me they was going to hold me down, that I was
going to be good.ʺ Tr. 918. Wilson understood this to mean that Matt and his
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group would ʺhold me down, give me money, look out for me, watch over me,ʺ
and that this meant he would be ʺaccepted with them.ʺ Tr. 918.
A few days prior to the murder, Beans gave Wilson and Cuzzo the
guns from the mailbox in the lobby of 321. Wilson received a silver .380 caliber
gun and Cuzzo a silver revolver. Wilson and Cuzzo left the building and walked
through the housing projects on Courtlandt Avenue. Wilson was carrying the
gun in his waistband. Wilson did not know whom they were looking for, so he
just followed Cuzzo. He understood that they were looking for the target of the
murder plot. As they walked, a police car drove down the opposite side of the
block. The car stopped and the officers jumped out. Wilson and Cuzzo, still
carrying the guns from Beans, ran as the officers chased them. At some point,
Wilson jumped over a gate and the gun fell to the ground. He continued to run.
He had lost Cuzzo at this point. After waiting a couple of minutes, he returned
to Headquarters and told the group, which included Joseph Tarean, or ʺT,ʺ and a
man known as ʺE‐Wop,ʺ that he had dropped the gun.
Matt called Wilson and told him that he would have to pay for the
gun if he did not find it. Wilson left the building and ran into T, who told him
that the area was clear of police activity. Wilson retraced his steps and found the
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gun buried in the grass. He picked it up and returned to 321, where Matt, T,
Beans, and others were hanging out. Key arrived and began talking to Matt, who
then introduced Key to Wilson.
Two or three days later, Wilson got a phone call from Matt, asking
him to come up to Courtlandt Avenue. Wilson called Matt once he had arrived,
and Matt told Wilson he was across the street in a van. Wilson got into the van.
Later, Key pulled up in a black Jeep. Key and Matt began talking through their
rolled‐down windows. Wilson could not understand what they were saying and
thought that they were speaking in code. They spoke for a few minutes.
Wilson left the van to go to the store. When Wilson got back to the
van, Matt drove him around the block and told Wilson to do what he had been
asked to do initially. Wilson understood this to mean that Matt was asking him
kill someone. Wilson agreed. Matt handed Wilson a silver revolver from a
concealed compartment in the roof of the van. Matt described the target to
Wilson as a black man with braids and let Wilson out on the sidewalk. Wilson
looked in the barbershop where Matt told him the target would be but did not
see anyone other than the barbers. Matt called Wilson numerous times to see
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what was going on. During one of these calls, Wilson realized that he was at the
wrong barbershop and proceeded up the block to another barbershop.
Matt provided Wilson with additional details regarding Harrisonʹs
appearance, and Wilson spotted Harrison walking towards him. Wilson ducked
into a store, and Harrison and his friends entered the store behind Wilson.
Wilson left the store and took another call from Matt, who expressed frustration
that the shooting had not yet occurred. Matt told Wilson to ʺdo what [he] got to
doʺ and then run around the corner to Third Avenue, where Matt would pick
him up in the minivan. Tr. 941. Wilson hid between two cars and moved the
gun from his waistband to the front pocket of his sweatshirt. He then walked out
from behind the cars towards Harrison and shot him three times. Harrison later
died from the gunshot wounds.
Wilson turned and ran to Third Avenue where he jumped into the
van with Matt, Beans, and another individual. Wilson gave his sweatshirt and
the gun to Beans and changed into another shirt that Matt gave him. Wilson told
Matt he was not sure if he had killed Harrison. Matt let Wilson out of the
minivan and told him to shower and relax.
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Later that night, Matt called Wilson and told him it was ʺpay day.ʺ
Tr. 946. Wilson believed that he was going to get paid for the murder. Wilson
went to Mattʹs house, where Matt was standing outside the van with Beans,
Cuzzo, and Jamal Brooks. They all got into the van and drove to Manhattan.
Once they reached their destination, Wilson and Matt got out and stopped at a
grocery store. Key was standing across the street from the store, and they
crossed over to talk to him. Key thanked Wilson for ʺhandling that situation for
him,ʺ which Wilson understood to mean shooting Harrison. Tr. 948. Key then
handed Wilson $1,000 in cash. After paying Wilson, Key appeared to be in high
spirits and told Wilson ʺthatʹs how you get money.ʺ Tr. 949.
The Car Stop
Drug Enforcement Administration (ʺDEAʺ) Special Agent John
Livanis, assigned to the New York Field Division Strike Force, was involved in
an ongoing investigation of Key that began in June 2012. Based on information
provided by a confidential informant, Livanis and his team began conducting
surveillance of Key.5
Livanis and his team did not know Keyʹs identity at the time he first
became a target of the investigation. After the NYPD traced a license plate number of a
Nissan Maxima driven by Key (FBZ 3330), which had been provided to Livanis by a
confidential informant, Livanis learned that Key was being investigated for drug‐
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In June 2012, Livanis observed a man, later identified as Key, leave a
store with a large shopping bag, after the informant saw the man purchase a kilo
press, a device used to package large quantities of drugs. On August 3, 2012,
three days before the Car Stop, Livanis observed the same man leave 3427
Bruckner Boulevard, an apartment building in the Bronx, with a small gift bag
and head to a body shop in Mount Vernon, New York, in the Nissan Maxima
previously identified by the informant. The man brought the gift bag, which
Livanis believed to contain either drugs or money, into the body shop and left
On August 6, 2012, the day of the Car Stop, Livanis, New York State
Police Senior Investigator Frederick Cabbell, and a team of agents resumed
surveillance, looking for the Maxima. The agents saw a man park a Toyota
Sienna, which had no front license plate, across from 3427 Bruckner Boulevard.
Livanis recognized the man from his previous surveillance operations but did
not convey his suspicion to anyone else on the team. The man got out of the
Sienna and looked up and down the block repeatedly, even though there was no
car traffic on the street. Cabbell found the manʹs behavior ʺsuspicious,ʺ App. 251,
related activity and murder‐for‐hire, and that Key was connected to Davis, who was
also the subject of an ongoing narcotics investigation.
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and based on his experience, he believed that the man was checking for police or
other observers in the area.
After crossing the street, the man entered the building. He
reappeared within minutes, holding a green plastic bag with a weighted, brick‐
shaped object inside. He walked back across the street quickly and got into the
driverʹs seat of the Sienna. Based on their observations and experience, both
Livanis and Cabbell suspected that the bag contained either drugs or drug
Cabbell then instructed the team, comprised of agents in several
unmarked vehicles, to follow the Sienna.6 Livanis stayed back at the apartment
building and listened to the communications on his radio. Cabbell also followed
the Sienna and saw the driver use a cell phone. Cabbell instructed the team to
make a traffic stop. Special Agents Kuzman and Lorens turned on their lights
and sirens and, using their PA system, instructed the Sienna to pull over. The car
slowed down briefly but did not stop, and eventually took off onto the highway.
Kuzman repeatedly called out for the car to pull over while it weaved in and out
of traffic on the northbound Bruckner Expressway at high speeds. The driver of
Although the district court found that only Livanis instructed the team to
pursue the Sienna, both Livanis and Cabbell testified that they did so.
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the Sienna remained on his phone, and Kuzman informed the team that the
driver was failing to yield. The surveillance team continued in pursuit for five to
eight minutes. Finally, the car took the Stillwell Avenue exit off the Expressway
and came to a stop in a nearby intersection.
Cabbell drew his weapon and ran towards the Sienna screaming
ʺpoliceʺ with his badge visible; other members of the team did the same.
Kuzman got out of his car and asked the driver to show his hands, but the driver
continued to use his cell phone. Cabbell holstered his weapon and removed the
driver from the vehicle. The cell phone was still inside the car.
Cabbell saw the green plastic bag between the two front seats. The
bag was wrapped tightly such that the rectangular shape of its contents was
apparent. Cabbell removed and opened the bag to find $10,000 in cash bundled
with rubber bands inside.
The driver was handcuffed and taken to the 45th Precinct. Cabbell
stayed behind with the car and moved it out of traffic. He then conducted a
ʺcursory searchʺ of the car. App. 243. Cabbell found additional cell phones, New
York license plate FBZ 3330, receipts for several additional cell phones,
miscellaneous papers, and two Pelican cases with instructions for a GPS device.
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At that time, he recognized the license plate from his investigation as belonging
to Key. In an effort not to raise Keyʹs suspicions about the broader investigation,
the agents decided not to proceed with prosecution. They also opted not to seize
any evidence from the car other than the green bag. Cabbell returned to the
precinct and told Key that his money had been seized, but that he would get his
car keys back.
The Apartment Search
On the morning of September 19, 2012, Key was arrested by Federal
Bureau of Investigations (ʺFBIʺ) Agent Brendan Kenney and a team of 12 to 15
law enforcement personnel in an apartment at 1604 Metropolitan Avenue in the
Bronx. Kenney and another agent knocked on the apartment door and
announced themselves. Key answered the door in boxer shorts and an
undershirt, holding a cell phone. Kenney and another agent took the cell phone
from Key, pulled him into the hallway, and handcuffed him. After the agents
made sure no one else was in the apartment, they brought Key back inside to get
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When Kenney brought Key into the living room, Kenney noticed ʺa
number of cell phonesʺ on the table. App. 245.7 At that time, the FBI was
investigating Key for narcotics trafficking and a murder‐for‐hire conspiracy that
involved cell phones. Kenney was also aware of a wiretap investigation into
Keyʹs drug trafficking activities that involved cell phones. Kenney asked Key if
there were firearms or drugs in the apartment; Key said that there were not and
gave Kenney verbal consent to search the apartment for firearms and drugs. At
no point did Kenney ask Key to complete a consent form.
Kenney went into the bedroom to get clothes for Key. He picked up
a pair of jeans and checked them for contraband. He found car keys for a Toyota
and a Bentley, as well as cash in the jeansʹ pockets. Kenney knew from the
ongoing investigation that Key operated a Toyota Sienna and a Bentley. As the
agents went through the apartment, they also recovered cell phones, an iPad,
and an address book. The search lasted approximately 15 minutes. Key was
seated in the living room for the duration of the search and did not ask the
agents to stop at any point.
At oral argument, defense counsel and the government agreed that four or
five cell phones were recovered.
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After the search was completed, Kenney and an NYPD detective
transported Key to the FBIʹs office at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan. Kenney
provided Key with a property receipt for the items that were seized.
The Proceedings Below
In a superseding indictment filed February 25, 2014, Key was
charged with narcotics conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846
(Count One); use, carrying, and possession of firearms in connection with the
narcotics conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924 and 2 (Count Two);
conspiracy to commit murder‐for‐hire and attempted murder‐for‐hire of
Matthew Allen in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1958 and 2 (Counts Three and Four);
use, carrying, and possessing of a firearm in connection with the Allen murder‐
for‐hire conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924 and 2 (Count Five); conspiracy
to commit murder‐for‐hire and murder‐for‐hire of Terry Harrison in violation of
18 U.S.C. §§ 1958 and 2 (Counts Six and Seven); murder in connection with the
narcotics conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848(e)(1)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 2
(Count Eight); and aiding and abetting the use of a firearm to commit murder in
connection with the Harrison murder‐for‐hire charges in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 924(j)(1) and 2 (Count Nine).
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page18 of 40
Before trial, Key moved to suppress physical evidence recovered
from the Car Stop and the Apartment Search. After a two‐day hearing, the
district court denied Keyʹs suppression motions, ruling from the bench. The
court credited the testimony of the law enforcement officers and denied
suppression, ruling that (1) the Car Stop was supported by probable cause to
believe that a crime had occurred, (2) the automobile exception justified the
search of the car for the green plastic bag, and (3) the evidence, not ultimately
seized, from the rear of the car would have been discovered in a permissible
inventory search. Regarding the Apartment Search, the court ruled that, based
on his training, experience, and knowledge of the investigation, Kenney had
probable cause to believe that the electronic items and address book were
evidence of criminal activity and thus was justified in seizing them under the
plain view doctrine.
Keyʹs trial began on March 17, 2014 and lasted approximately two
weeks. The government called approximately 25 witnesses, including Wilson,
the man who killed Harrison, and introduced wiretap records and physical
records, including narcotics paraphernalia, a firearm, a photograph of items
seized during the Car Stop, cell site records, phone records, Department of Motor
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page19 of 40
Vehicles records, and bank records. The district court denied Keyʹs motions for a
directed verdict at the close of the governmentʹs case and at the end of the trial.
On April 2, 2014, the jury found Key guilty on Counts One through
Six ‐‐ the drug trafficking charges, the Allen murder‐for‐hire charges, and
conspiracy to commit the Harrison murder‐for‐hire ‐‐ and not guilty on Counts
Seven through Nine ‐‐ the substantive murder, murder‐for‐hire, and firearm
charges relating to the Harrison murder.
On March 27, 2015, Judge Stein sentenced Key principally to life
imprisonment on Count One, a concurrent ten yearsʹ imprisonment on Counts
Three, Four, and Six, a consecutive five yearsʹ imprisonment on Count Two, and
a consecutive 25 yearsʹ imprisonment on Count Five, for a total sentence of life
imprisonment plus 30 years.
This appeal followed.
Two issues are presented: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence as to
the pecuniary value element of murder‐for‐hire with respect to Count Six, and (2)
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the legality of the Car Stop and the Apartment Search.8 We address each issue in
The Suﬃciency of the Evidence
In considering the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal of a
conviction, we ʺview the evidence in the light most favorable to the government,
crediting every inference that could have been drawn in the governmentʹs favor,
and deferring to the juryʹs assessment of witness credibility and its assessment of
the weight of the evidence.ʺ Rosemond, 841 F.3d at 113 (quoting United States v.
Coplan, 703 F.3d 46, 62 (2d Cir. 2012)). We must affirm if ʺany rational trier of fact
could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable
doubt.ʺ Id. (quoting United States v. Vernace, 811 F.3d 609, 615 (2d Cir. 2016)).
The murder‐for‐hire statute prohibits traveling in interstate or
foreign commerce, or using a facility of interstate commerce, with intent that a
murder ʺtake place in exchange for the provision of, or a promise to pay,
anything of pecuniary value.ʺ United States v. Frampton, 382 F.3d 213, 218 (2d Cir.
2004). Section 1958 of Title 18 of the United States Code provides:
Key also argues that his drug‐related convictions were impermissibly
tainted by prejudicial spillover from the murder‐for‐hire convictions. In light of our
affirmance of the murder‐for‐hire convictions, this argument is foreclosed.
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page21 of 40
Whoever travels in or causes another . . . to travel in interstate or
foreign commerce, or uses or causes another . . . to use the mail or
any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, with intent that a
murder be committed in violation of the laws of any State or the
United States as consideration for the receipt of, or as consideration
for a promise or agreement to pay, anything of pecuniary value, or
who conspires to do so, shall be . . . imprisoned for not more than
ten years . . . ; and if personal injury results, shall be . . . imprisoned
for not more than twenty years . . . ; and if death results, shall be
punished by death or life imprisonment . . . .
18 U.S.C. § 1958(a).
As the wording of the statute makes clear, there must be the intent
that a murder be committed as ʺconsiderationʺ for the payment of, or promise or
agreement to pay, something of ʺpecuniary value.ʺ Id. We have held that ʺthere
must be a ʹquid‐pro‐quo (or at least the promise of such) between the parties to
the transaction.ʹʺ United States v. Hardwick, 523 F.3d 94, 100 (2d Cir. 2008)
(quoting United States v. Hernandez, 141 F.3d 1042, 1057 (11th Cir. 1998)). Not all
intended exchanges, however, satisfy the statuteʹs ʺpecuniary valueʺ
requirement. The mere fact that the intended exchange between the solicitor of
the murder and the solicited murderer ʺcould inure to the economic benefit of the
latter is insufficient.ʺ Frampton, 382 F.3d at 219. For the exchange to be
ʺpecuniary,ʺ the intended consideration must be ʺsomething the ʹprimary
significanceʹ of which lay in its ʹeconomic advantage.ʹʺ Id. (quoting 18 U.S.C.
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page22 of 40
§ 1958(b)(1)). Accordingly, we have held that the promise of a favor is
insufficient to sustain a murder‐for‐hire conviction under § 1958 absent
ʺevidence suggesting that either party had an understanding as to the form that
it would actually take.ʺ Id.9
To sustain a conviction for conspiracy, the government must prove
that the defendant ʺknowingly joined and participated in [the conspiracy]ʺ and
ʺpossessed the specific intent to commit the offense that was the object of the
conspiracy.ʺ United States v. Valle, 807 F.3d 508, 515‐16 (2d Cir. 2015). The
government need not prove that the conspirators ʺhave agreed on the details of
the conspiracy, so long as they agreed on the essential nature of the plan.ʺ United
States v. Geibel, 369 F.3d 682, 689 (2d Cir. 2004). ʺ[P]roof of a tacit understanding
will suffice.ʺ United States v. Rea, 958 F.2d 1206, 1214 (2d Cir. 1992). A
defendantʹs participation in a conspiracy can be proven by circumstantial
evidence. See United States v. Aleskerova, 300 F.3d 286, 292‐93 (2d Cir. 2002).
A number of circuits have held that ʺ§ 1958 does not require the existence
of an actual murder‐for‐hire agreement.ʺ United States v. Dvorkin, 799 F.3d 867, 875 (7th
Cir. 2015) (collecting cases). The Seventh Circuit has noted that our circuitʹs precedents,
specifically Hardwick and Frampton, contain language that ʺcould be construed as
inconsistentʺ with that position. Id. at 877 n.21 (citing Hardwick, 523 F.3d at 99, and
Frampton, 382 F.3d at 217). We need not address this issue, as here there was sufficient
evidence to show that all three parties to the murder‐for‐hire scheme had a mutual
understanding that Wilson would be paid for his work.
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page23 of 40
The question is whether a reasonable jury could have found that Key
and others agreed to commission Harrisonʹs murder in exchange for the
provision of, or a promise to pay, something of pecuniary value. We answer in
the affirmative and uphold Keyʹs conviction.
Key argues that Wilsonʹs vague testimony regarding what he was to
receive in exchange for Harrisonʹs murder shows only that Wilson was expecting
an unspecified favor, which cannot support a finding of pecuniary value. In
Frampton, the only evidence of consideration for the agreement to commit
murder was a co‐conspiratorʹs testimony that the shooter would receive an
unspecified ʺfavor,ʺ later clarified as ʺ[a]nything he need.ʺ Frampton, 382 F.3d at
218. We rejected the governmentʹs argument that the jury could infer that the
ʺfavorʺ carried inherent economic value and, thus, satisfied the consideration
requirement. Id. at 218‐19.
Here, unlike in Frampton, the record contains evidence from which
the jury could find that the parties had an understanding that Wilson would be
paid to murder Harrison. Cf. id. at 219. Wilsonʹs descriptions of his interactions
with Matt make clear that more than an undefined favor was promised. Wilson
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page24 of 40
and Matt discussed the shooting over the course of several days, including what
Wilson would receive in return for the murder. Although he was not directly
involved in the conversations, Key was present, and a reasonable jury could have
inferred that Matt was receiving instructions from Key. Unlike in Frampton,
where there was no indication that either party believed that money would be
exchanged, Wilson testified that he understood Davisʹs representation that he
would ʺhold [Wilson] downʺ to mean, among other things, that Matt and Keyʹs
other associates would take care of Wilson financially. Indeed, Wilson testified
that he understood the group would ʺhold me down, give me money, look out for
me.ʺ Tr. 918 (emphasis added).
Keyʹs conduct after the murder also sheds light on the arrangement
between Matt and Wilson. Shortly after the shooting, Matt told Wilson that it
was ʺpay day.ʺ Matt then brought him to Key, who handed Wilson $1,000 and
thanked him for ʺhandling that situation.ʺ Tr. 946, 948. Hence, Matt, Wilson,
and Key all acted as if they understood that Wilson would be paid for the deed.
For the substantive murder‐for‐hire crime, we assess whether the
pecuniary value element was met when the agreement was made. Frampton, 382
F.3d at 219. Here, Key and his co‐conspiratorsʹ post‐agreement course of conduct
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page25 of 40
is circumstantial evidence of Keyʹs specific intent at the time Wilson was hired to
provide monetary compensation for the murderʹs completion. In particular, Key
paid Wilson after the murder. See United States v. Anderson, 747 F.3d 51, 61 (2d
Cir. 2014) (ʺCircumstantial evidence may be used to prove specific intent to
commit the object of a conspiracy. . . .ʺ). Thus, drawing all inferences in the
governmentʹs favor, a rational jury could conclude that, at the time of the initial
solicitation, Wilson and Matt agreed that the murder would be carried out in
exchange for financial compensation to be provided by Key.
Key contends that the post‐murder payment is insufficient to
establish the pecuniary value element, citing, inter alia, United States v. Chong, 419
F.3d 1076 (9th Cir. 2005). In Chong, the Ninth Circuit held that the jury did not
have adequate evidence to find that $100 given to a hitman after a murder
constituted compensation for the murder‐for‐hire in the absence of an overt
agreement or understanding between the hitman and the defendant (or the
defendantʹs co‐conspirators). Chong, 419 F.3d at 1082. At the time of the
agreement, the hitman was aware only that he and other volunteers would be
traveling to Boston from San Francisco and that they would be bringing guns to
complete an unspecified task. Id. at 1083. It was not until the volunteers reached
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page26 of 40
Boston that they were told, right before the murder took place, that the job was to
kill someone. Id. The court concluded that the evidence showed only that the
shooter ʺvolunteered for a dangerous assignment and wound up getting some
walking‐around money.ʺ Id. On those facts, the Ninth Circuit held that the jury
had insufficient evidence to find that the shooter agreed to travel to Boston to
commit a murder in exchange for something of pecuniary value offered by the
defendant or his co‐conspirators. Id. at 1083‐84.10
Here, Wilson knew exactly what he was being asked to do when he
agreed to assist Matt. The evidence at trial established that Matt discussed with
Wilson what Wilson would receive for assisting with the murder of Harrison,
although it is hard to divine the precise nature of that consideration from only
Wilsonʹs recollection of their interactions prior to the murder. Nonetheless, a
jury could reasonably find that when Matt told Wilson that he would ʺbe good,ʺ
In further support of his argument, Key cites the decision of the district
court (Forrest, J.) on Matthew Davisʹs Rule 29 motion in his criminal case. See United
States v. Davis, 103 F. Supp. 3d 396 (S.D.N.Y. 2015). In holding that no rational juror
could find that the pecuniary value element was met as to Matt, the district court noted
that ʺ[i]t is . . . legally insufficient that [Matt] Davis may have held a unilateral belief
that the likely form of compensation was moneyʺ without any indication of Wilsonʹs
understanding. Davis, 103 F. Supp. 3d at 404. Here, of course, there was a different
record, including evidence of Wilsonʹs understanding of the bargained‐for exchange, as
well as a jury verdict against Key. Accordingly, the disposition of Mattʹs case in the
district court carries little weight.
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page27 of 40
Matt was promising financial compensation, particularly in light of Wilsonʹs
post‐murder interactions with Matt and Key.
Finally, in addition to his arguments regarding the pecuniary value
element, Key argues that there is no evidence that he knew the murder had been
planned, let alone who would commit the murder or that someone would be
paid for its commission. We are not persuaded. Wilsonʹs testimony about his
interactions with Matt and the other members of Keyʹs crew, when considered
with his testimony as a whole, provided a basis for the jury to conclude that Key
not only knowingly participated in the murder‐for‐hire conspiracy, but also was
the driving force behind the plan. After Matt asked Wilson to commit the
murder, Wilson spent the next few days in the company of Matt, Beans, Cuzzo,
and others. Matt and Beans provided Wilson with guns and instructed him on
the plans for the murder. As Wilson sat in Mattʹs minivan just before the
murder, Key pulled up in his car and had a conversation with Matt in a code that
Wilson could not understand. When Wilson was trying to find Harrison, he saw
T and E‐Wop positioned as lookouts on the street. After the shooting, Matt and
Beans took Wilsonʹs clothes and gun from him. Within hours, Matt called Wilson
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page28 of 40
to tell him that it was ʺpay day.ʺ Tr. 946. Then, Wilson, Matt, Beans, Cuzzo, and
Brooks all drove to Manhattan where they met Key, who then paid Wilson.
In addition to the evidence regarding the planning and execution of
Harrisonʹs murder, the government introduced evidence of Keyʹs role as a high‐
level drug supplier and his relationship with Matt and other young men who
acted at his direction. The testimony at trial established that Key supplied large
quantities of cocaine to drug organizations run by co‐defendants Ruben Davis
and Jermaine Smalls. Two witnesses testified that Matt sold drugs for Key, and
one witness testified that Matt stored drugs that Key had supplied to Smalls in
his grandmotherʹs house. One cooperator testified that Key stopped giving Matt
drugs to sell, or ʺwork,ʺ when Key thought that Matt was selling too slowly. Tr.
578. A member of Smallsʹs crew testified that Smalls was scared that Key would
retaliate against him through his associates, who Smalls called ʺwolves,ʺ due to
an outstanding debt. Tr. 572. The jury also heard from a member of Ruben
Davisʹs organization, who testified that Key discussed having a mutual associate
killed, stating that he did not tolerate disrespect and had young men who ʺwill
do anythingʺ for him. Tr. 1410.
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page29 of 40
The government also presented evidence from which the jury could
infer that Key conspired with others to have Harrison killed because of a
longstanding dispute over drug selling territory. Bernard Folks, who sold drugs
for Harrison, testified that Harrison supplied his crew with guns to protect
themselves from and attack other local gangs who sold in the same territory,
including the crew that sold drugs out of 321. Jiya Canady, who was involved in
the murder‐for‐hire of Matthew Allen, testified about a conversation with Key,
during which Key told Canady that he had a rivalry with other crews over
territory in the Bronx and had to ʺlay somebody down.ʺ Tr. 113. Canady further
testified that Key reported that the other drug dealers in the housing projects ʺfell
in lineʺ and ʺaccepted his . . . controlʺ after the murder. Tr. 114.
Accordingly, because a rational jury could have inferred that Key
participated in the conspiracy to murder Harrison and specifically intended that
Wilson would be paid in exchange for committing the murder, we conclude that
there was sufficient evidence to satisfy the pecuniary value element of the
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page30 of 40
We review a district courtʹs ruling on a suppression motion for clear
error as to factual findings, ʺgiving special deference to findings that are based
on determinations of witness credibility,ʺ and de novo as to questions of law.
Hussain, 835 F.3d at 312‐13 (quoting United States v. Lucky, 569 F.3d 101, 106 (2d
Cir. 2009)). In so doing, we conclude that Keyʹs motion was properly denied and
the evidence from the challenged searches was properly admitted.
The Car Stop
Key argues that Investigator Cabbellʹs warrantless search of his car
was unconstitutional because (1) the search of the passenger cab was not
justifiable either as a search incident to arrest or under the automobile exception,
and (2) the evidence observed in the rear storage area of the car would not have
been acquired lawfully had the unlawful search not occurred.
Warrantless searches are ʺper se unreasonable under the Fourth
Amendment ‐‐ subject only to a few specifically established and well‐delineated
exceptions.ʺ United States v. Navas, 597 F.3d 492, 497 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Katz
v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967)).
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page31 of 40
The ʺautomobile exceptionʺ permits law enforcement officers to
search without a warrant ʺa readily mobile vehicle where there is probable cause
to believe that the vehicle contains contraband.ʺ Navas, 597 F.3d at 497 (citing
Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940 (1996) (per curiam)). If the exception
applies, ʺit justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that
may conceal the object of the search.ʺ United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825
ʺ[P]robable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within . . .
[the officersʹ] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy
information [are] sufficient in themselves to warrant a [person] of reasonable
caution in the belief that evidence of a crime will be found in the place to be
searched.ʺ United States v. Gaskin, 364 F.3d 438, 456‐57 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting
Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175‐76 (1949)) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Of course, probable cause is a dynamic concept, and we have
recognized that a law enforcement officerʹs experience and training may permit
the officer to ʺdiscern probable cause from facts and circumstances where a
layman might not.ʺ Id. at 457. Furthermore, under the collective knowledge
doctrine, even if the law enforcement officer actually conducting the search lacks
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page32 of 40
the relevant facts to support probable cause, the search may nonetheless be
permissible if the officer acted on the assessment or instructions of other officers
who did have such facts. United States v. Colon, 250 F.3d 130, 135 (2d Cir. 2001);
see also Hussain, 835 F.3d at 316 n.8.
In addition, law enforcement officers taking a vehicle into custody
after an arrest may search it and inventory its contents ʺwithout need for a search
warrant and without regard to whether there is probable cause to suspect that
the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of criminal conduct.ʺ United States v.
Lopez, 547 F.3d 364, 369 (2d Cir. 2008). Thus, after a lawful arrest (for example,
after a traffic violation) where a search incident to arrest is not justified, evidence
recovered from an immediately ensuing search may be admissible nevertheless
ʺif the contents would inevitably have been discovered in a permissible
inventory search.ʺ United States v. Perea, 986 F.2d 633, 644 (2d Cir. 1993).
Here, there was ample evidence for the agents to believe that Keyʹs
vehicle contained contraband. Cabbellʹs testimony, credited by the district court,
established that he was conducting surveillance as part of a larger drug
trafficking investigation when he saw a man emerge from a minivan without a
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page33 of 40
front license plate and look up and down the block several times over a period of
minutes, even though there was no street traffic at the time. Cabbell then saw
the man enter an apartment building and return minutes later with a green
plastic bag weighed down by a brick‐shaped object, now hurrying back to the
car. At that time, Cabbell suspected that the package in the bag contained drugs
or drug‐related proceeds. But there was more.
After Cabbell instructed his team to stop Keyʹs car, Key failed to pull
over and continued driving at high speeds with the agents in pursuit for five to
eight minutes. Keyʹs initial efforts to escape surely provided the agents
additional reason to believe that Key had something to hide. We have long
recognized flight as an appropriate factor supporting a finding of probable cause
to search a vehicle after it is stopped. See United States v. Christophe, 470 F.2d 865,
868‐69 (2d Cir. 1972); see also United States v. Oliver, 363 F.3d 1061, 1068‐69 (10th
Cir. 2004). The agents could have reasonably concluded that Key was
Key also contests the admission of testimony regarding the evidence
observed in the back of his car. We agree with the government that the evidence
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page34 of 40
in the back of the car would have been discovered in an inventory search given
As Key acknowledges, the inevitable discovery doctrine requires the
district court to assess, ʺviewing affairs as they existed at the instant before the
unlawful search occurred, what would have happened had the unlawful search
never occurred.ʺ United States v. Stokes, 733 F.3d 438, 444 (2d Cir. 2013) (emphasis
omitted) (quoting United States v. Eng, 971 F.2d 854, 861 (2d Cir. 1992)). After
Cabbell recovered the green plastic bag from the front of the car, Key was
handcuffed and transported to the precinct. At that point, Keyʹs car was still
sitting in the middle of an active roadway. Cabbell then moved the car out of the
line of traffic before conducting a ʺcursory searchʺ of the rest of the vehicle.
Govʹt App. 232. After Key was under arrest and had been taken away from the
scene, Cabbell was entitled to conduct an inventory search before taking the
vehicle into police custody as part of routine procedure. See Lopez, 547 F.3d at
369‐70. As a result, discovery of the evidence in the back of the car was
inevitable. Keyʹs challenge to the evidence seized from the Car Stop fails.
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page35 of 40
The Apartment Search
Key also argues that the district court erred in concluding that Agent
Kenney was justified during the apartment search in seizing cell phones, an iPad,
and an address book as evidence of possible criminal activity under the plain
view doctrine because any incriminating character of such items cannot be
The ʺplain viewʺ exception to the Fourth Amendmentʹs warrant
requirement is well‐established. United States v. Andino, 768 F.3d 94, 99 (2d Cir.
2014). Under the plain view doctrine, a law enforcement officer may seize
evidence without a warrant if (1) the officer is ʺlawfully in a position from which
[the officer] view[s] an object,ʺ (2) the objectʹs ʺincriminating character is
immediately apparent,ʺ and (3) the officer has ʺa lawful right of access to the
object.ʺ Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 375 (1993). When an officer, during
a justified intrusion, encounters incriminating evidence, ʺ[t]he doctrine serves to
supplement the prior justification ‐‐ whether it be a warrant for another object,
hot pursuit, search incident to lawful arrest, or some other legitimate reason for
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page36 of 40
being present unconnected with a search directed against the accused ‐‐ and
permits the warrantless seizure.ʺ Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 135‐36 (1990).
Key does not challenge the officersʹ right to be present in his
apartment at the time of the challenged seizure or to access the seized objects.
Instead, Key argues that the ubiquity of cell phones and the fact that he was
arrested in his home preclude a finding that the incriminating character of the
phones and tablet was immediately apparent. We disagree.
Research suggests that virtually every adult in the United States
owns a cell phone, ʺwhich [is] now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily
life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude [it was] an important
feature of human anatomy.ʺ Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 2484 (2014); see
generally Mobile Phone Ownership, Pew Research Center (January 11, 2017),
http://www.pewinternet.org/chart/mobile‐phone‐ownership/. As Key notes, it is
increasingly common for individuals to own more than one mobile phone: an
employer might require a separate device for security reasons, an individual
might decide to upgrade to a newer model, or a parent might purchase a phone
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page37 of 40
for a child. As a result, we are mindful that the presence alone of a cell phone, or
even several cell phones, in a home is not inherently incriminating.
We nevertheless disagree with Key that Kenney had no reason to
believe that the phones in the apartment would provide evidence of criminality,
and we conclude that Kenney was justified in seizing the phones and iPad under
the plain view doctrine. At the time of Keyʹs arrest, Kenney had been
investigating him for months. The investigation had revealed that the murder‐
for‐hire conspiracies involved the use of multiple cell phones. A separate
wiretap investigation that Kenney was aware of showed that Key and his co‐
conspirators used cell phones to conduct drug‐related activity. Kenney had
analyzed Keyʹs use of numerous cell phones in connection with his purported
criminal activity. Finally, in Kenneyʹs experience, he had found that address
books usually contained contact information for associates.
Based on this record, we are not troubled by the agentsʹ warrantless
seizure of Keyʹs cell phones, iPad, and address book, particularly as the agents
did not search the electronic devices until after a warrant had been obtained.
Seizure of everyday objects in plain view is justified where the officers have
probable cause to believe that the objects contain or constitute evidence. See, e.g.,
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page38 of 40
United States v. $557,933.89, More or Less, in U.S. Funds, 287 F.3d 66, 89 (2d Cir.
2002) (upholding warrantless seizure of money orders under plain view doctrine
because denominations of money orders supported probable cause that they
were obtained to evade reporting requirements); United States v. Cushnie, No. 14
CR 119 (PGG), 2014 WL 7447149, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 31, 2014) (upholding
warrantless seizure of defendantʹs cell phone, keys, and wallet where marshals
had reason to believe they would provide evidence of defendantʹs interstate
travel and failure to register as a sex offender); United States v. Delva, 13 F. Supp.
3d 269, 276 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (ʺCourts have routinely denied motions to suppress
the seizure of cell phones, in the context of narcotics conspiracies, based on
knowledge that the phones may contain contacts and other evidence of a
crime.ʺ); United States v. Meregildo, No. 11 CR 576 (WHP), 2012 WL 4378047, at *4
(S.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2012) (ʺBecause law enforcement suspected [defendantʹs]
involvement in racketeering and narcotics conspiracies ‐‐ whose members used
cellular phones and social media to facilitate their criminal acts ‐‐ the iPhone and
iPod Touch . . . were immediately identifiable as evidence of criminal conduct.ʺ);
United States v. Reyes, No. 3:06CR120 (SRU), 2007 WL 419636, at *6 (D. Conn. Jan.
30, 2007) (ʺ[T]he cellular telephones plainly fall within the standard. It was
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page39 of 40
immediately apparent to [the] trained DEA agent with over ten years of law
enforcement experience, that cellular telephones contain caller logs, text
messages, phone books and other information that would be highly relevant to a
drug prosecution and would be very likely connected with criminal activity.ʺ).
The district court was entitled to credit Kenneyʹs testimony, which
established probable cause to believe that the items in question would contain
evidence of Keyʹs alleged criminal activity. See United States v. Escobar, 805 F.2d
68, 72 (2d Cir. 1986) (ʺ[The agentʹs] knowledge of the relationship between the
evidence seized and the . . . conspiracy, gleaned through months of investigation,
gave him probable cause to believe that the [items seized] were evidence of a
crime.ʺ); United States v. Gamble, 388 F.3d 74, 77 (2d Cir. 2004) (per curiam). The
district court thus appropriately concluded that the incriminating character of
the items seized was readily apparent to Kenney when he saw them in Keyʹs
Accordingly, we affirm the district courtʹs decision to deny Keyʹs
suppression motions and admit testimony regarding the evidence observed
during the Car Stop, as well as evidence seized from the Car Stop and Apartment
Case 15-1057, Document 168-1, 04/17/2017, 2012201, Page40 of 40
For the reasons stated above, the judgment of the district court is
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