Appeals court orders new trial for North Side man in gun case

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An imprisoned North Side gang member with a history of carrying illegal guns has won a new trial in a case in which Pittsburgh police said he was once again carrying a gun.

A federal appellate court last week vacated the 2012 conviction of Akeem Caldwell, 29, a member of the Northview Heights Crips, because the judges said the trial judge, Donetta Ambrose, improperly allowed the prosecution to introduce his previous gun convictions.

Caldwell, a felon who isn't allowed to have weapons, has long been on the radar of city police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He was convicted of possession of a gun in 2006 and went to prison for three years.

But when the ATF and police rounded up two dozen Crips with a major racketeering indictment in 2010, he wasn't among them. While ATF said it presented evidence that Caldwell should have been indicted with the others, the U.S. attorney's office declined to prosecute him.

In January 2012, city police said they saw him with a gun again in Northview Heights, and federal prosecutors charged him as a felon in possession. Such gun prosecutions, which used to be the province of state courts and were often dismissed as part of pleas, are a priority for the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts, where the punishments are much more severe than in the state system.

Caldwell's first trial ended in a mistrial because the jury couldn't decide, but a second jury convicted him and in 2013 he was sentenced to 77 months in prison.

In his appeal, he argued that another man, Darby Tigney, admitted later to his defense team that the gun in question was his, not Caldwell's. He also said the U.S. attorney's office should not have been allowed to tell the jury about Caldwell's other gun convictions.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the first argument but agreed with the second. The U.S. attorney's office now will have to try Caldwell a third time.


Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.

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