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1st Cir. Upholds Conviction of Man Who Killed Informant

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 15, 2015 3:55 PM

In 2004, Madelin Semidey-Morales was dating Edison Burgos-Montes while Semidey's husband was in prison. She agreed to work with the DEA to inform on Burgos, who was a drug dealer. She recorded conversations and arranged purchases for cocaine with DEA agents.

A year or so later, one of Burgos' employees told him that Semidey was a government informant. After that, Semidey mysteriously disappeared. Her body was never found.

The Wire

The government believed it had enough evidence to prosecute, which it did, for conspiracy to traffic drugs, and for Semidey's murder -- which included a charge of murdering her to prevent her from communicating to law enforcement. The government sought the death penalty.

Following a month-long trial, the jury convicted Burgos on all counts, but couldn't agree on the death penalty, meaning he was sentenced to life in prison. Burgos appealed to the First Circuit on a variety of grounds -- none of which the court agreed with.

He challenged evidence obtained from a wiretap of his phone, the affidavit of which he claimed omitted facts about Semidey, including that they were in a relationship, that she was cheating on her husband, and that she might have been trying to avoid prosecution. None of those things, however, was material, said the First Circuit. If there were any doubt about statements she had made, the affidavit itself corroborated them, along with other evidence showing that Burgos was dealing drugs.

Similarly, Burgos challenged a wiretap affidavit on an employee named Corales, whom Burgos said was unnecessary to wiretap. The court disagreed, finding that DEA agents' failure -- twice -- to arrange a buy had failed, and there wasn't enough time to recruit another confidential informant.

I've Got Motions for Days and Days

Burgos also asked the court to reconsider his motions to suppress evidence found in his car and at his farm. Evidence obtained from those places suggested, but didn't prove, that Semidey's blood had been there. Burgos argued that much of the evidence used to procure the search warrant was insufficient. The First Circuit disagreed, finding that things like Burgos' statements to Semidey that he would kill her if she turned out to be an informant, phone conversations stating that Semidey "won't appear," and observations of newly turned earth on Burgos' farm were more than enough probable cause to get a warrant.

Finally, Burgos challenged one of the jurors, who, it turned out, was the second cousin of a man called "Juan" who entered the courtroom. The juror, however, said he didn't recognize Juan. The court granted deference to the trial judge's credibility determinations that, even if Juan and the juror were distantly related, the juror didn't recognize him and there was no apparent bias.

Burgos also made about half a dozen evidentiary objections, but the First Circuit affirmed the trial court as to all of them, finding them either meritless or, even if they had some merit, not prejudicial because evidence of Burgos' guilt was pretty strong.

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