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United States v. Taplet

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

January 20, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE
v.
MELVIN TAPLET, JR., APPELLANT

Argued November 10, 2014

Page 876

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:08-cr-00338).

Allen H. Orenberg argued the cause for appellants.

John Cummings, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Ronald C. Machen, Jr., U.S. Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Suzanne G. Curt, and Anthony Scarpelli, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

Before: BROWN, Circuit Judge; WILLIAMS and GINSBURG, Senior Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 877

Brown, Circuit Judge.

Melvin Taplet Jr. was convicted of soliciting murder for hire using interstate commerce facilities in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958. We affirm.

I

A

Danielle Buck did what most good friends do. When her friend and neighbor, Kimberly McLaughlin, began a romantic liaison with Taplet and allowed him to move in, Buck noticed unhealthy changes in her friend's demeanor. She encouraged her to end the relationship.

Her friend listened. But while the relationship ended, Taplet's rage toward Buck festered and grew. In August 2008, Taplet told his troubles to Jerome Thomas, a stranger he met at a truck stop. Taplet explained how his relationship with Buck's friend had soured due to Buck's interference, and how he wished he could " have something seriously done to her." Rather than brushing it off as bluster, Thomas responded that he could " take care" of Buck for $7,000 to $10,000. Taplet was receptive and gave Thomas his cell phone number. Unbeknown to Taplet, Thomas worked as a paid informant for the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (" ICE" ).

Taplet and Thomas discussed the murder-for-hire over the phone and in person. At one meeting, Taplet reaffirmed his desire to have Buck killed and provided Thomas with a piece of paper showing McLaughlin's address in Maine, an apartment directly across the hall from Ms. Buck's, and including the notation " Danielle." A few days later, Thomas called Taplet's cell phone and set up a meeting at a truck stop in Elkton, Maryland, where Taplet provided the name of a secluded town near the Canadian border where Thomas could kill Buck and dispose of her body. He also provided a photo of Buck.

Thomas, claiming to be a drug dealer, asked Taplet to weld a hidden compartment into a car as partial payment for the murder-for-hire. Taplet met Thomas in Maryland. Following Thomas's instructions, Taplet drove to the parking lot of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C., where ICE Special Agent Tony Rodriquez, posing as Thomas's hitman partner, joined them. Taplet could not successfully complete the welding project in the parking lot, but the three of them still agreed Thomas and Rodriquez would murder Buck in exchange for future payment, while Taplet--needing an airtight alibi--was at work in West Virginia.

B

On February 3, 2009, the district court arraigned Taplet on one count of murder-for-hire. Three times prior to trial, Taplet moved to dismiss the indictment on Speedy Trial Act (" STA" or " Act" ) grounds. See generally 18 U.S.C. § 3161. Taplet, however, did not seek to dismiss the indictment on constitutional grounds. The district court denied Taplet's speedy trial motions, and his trial began on February 14, 2011.

Taplet moved for acquittal contending there was insufficient evidence of the interstate commerce requirement because the government had manufactured jurisdiction. Taplet also requested a special jury instruction on manufactured jurisdiction. The district court denied both and the jury found Taplet guilty.

The district court determined Taplet's recommended Sentencing Guideline range was 262 to 327 ...


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