BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — Jury selection is expected to get underway this morning in Salem Superior Court in the trial of four men, three reputed members of the notorious Hells Angels motorcycle gang and another said to be part of an affiliated gang, on charges that include extortion, kidnapping and mayhem.
The men are charged with forcing a former member, a Revere man, to turn over the title to his motorcycle, which they took last October after kicking him out of the Red Devils motorcycle gang, an affiliated group, and smashing the man’s hand with a hammer.
But some 11th hour legal issues — including whether the jury will be shown the state’s key piece of evidence, a video of one defendant taking the title to the motorcycle from the alleged victim — led to a lengthy hearing yesterday.
During that hearing, an FBI agent testified that the agency has reports and federal grand jury testimony by the alleged victim, as well as by a co-defendant who has made a deal with prosecutors. That prompted defense lawyers to demand that prosecutors turn over all of those materials.
Prosecutor A.J. Camelio said he was willing to do so — if he had them. He told Judge David Lowy that the U.S. Attorney’s office has so far refused to give him those grand jury transcripts and the FBI reports.
So, the judge issued an order for those reports. The response of federal prosecutors could determine whether the case actually goes to trial as scheduled.
On trial are Marc Eliason, 35, of Danvers; Sean Barr, 48, of Lynn; and Robert Defronzo, 45, of Saugus, all said to be members of the Hells Angels Salem chapter (based in Lynn); and Brian Weymouth, 41, of Danvers, who is alleged to be a member of the Red Devils, based in Newbury. Besides kidnapping and extortion, they are charged with mayhem, assault and battery, and larceny.
A fifth defendant, George Brown, 49, of Salem, reputed to be a Hells Angel, has reached an agreement with prosecutors under which he will testify against his alleged former associates. Brown has also been testifying before a federal grand jury, prosecutors disclosed last week.
The men, along with a sixth, were charged earlier this year, months after the October 2012 incident at the clubhouse. The alleged victim’s fiancee contacted the FBI after learning of threats against her, the alleged victim and their son.
During yesterday’s hearing, FBI Special Agent Jeff Wood testified that he initially believed he had a federal case against the men, but after federal prosecutors reviewed the evidence he’d gathered, including the secret video, they decided not to pursue the case. Wood then handed some of the evidence over to the state police.
At issue in yesterday’s hearing is whether prosecutors can use the video during the trial. Massachusetts has a requirement that both parties consent to being recorded unless a judge issues a warrant, but the federal law is different. If the judge determines the investigation was conducted by federal agents, the video may be used in a state prosecution if it concerns organized crime.
A sixth defendant, Nikolas Avelis, 54, of Gloucester pleaded guilty yesterday to a single count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, and was sentenced to two years of probation. The prosecutor said Avelis is not cooperating in the case, nor will he testify. The offer, he said, was based on Avelis’ minimal role in the incidents.
During the hearing, Avelis stressed to the judge that he never laid a hand on the victim. He was charged under a legal theory known as “joint venture.”
Security was heavy during yesterday’s proceedings, something that is expected to continue throughout the two-week trial. Additional court officers have been assigned to the courtroom where the trial will take place, and Salem police maintained a presence both inside and outside the courthouse throughout the day.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.