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United States v. Stumbo

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

September 11, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
SONYA K. STUMBO, Defendant.

Randy Ramseyer, Assistant United States Attorney, Abingdon, Virginia, for United States.

Ned Pillersdorf, Pillersdorf, Derossett & Lane, Prestonsburg, Kentucky, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.

In this criminal case, the defendant, convicted by a jury of participating in a cockfighting venture, has filed a motion seeking a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, contending that it was error for the court to exclude her testimony that she did not know that cockfighting was against the law. In addition, it is asserted that because the prosecutor made disparaging comments about defense counsel during closing arguments, a new trial is warranted.

For the reasons set forth herein, the defendant's motion will be denied.

I.

The defendant, Sonya K. Stumbo, was charged along with her husband and son and two others with engaging in a conspiracy to (1) sponsor or exhibit an animal in an animal fighting venture in violation of 7 U.S.C. § 2156(a); and (2) conduct an illegal gambling business in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1955(a) (Count One). In addition, she was charged with committing specific substantive offenses relating to cockfighting through her participation in the conspiracy. See Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640, 646 (1946).[1] Those other offenses were knowingly transporting in interstate commerce a knife or other sharp instrument, attached or designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture, in violation of 7 U.S.C. § 2156(e) (Counts Four through Eight), and knowingly transporting in interstate commerce an animal for the purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture, in violation of 7 U.S.C. § 2156(b) (Counts Ten through Fourteen).

The charges arose out of a cockfighting venture located in Floyd County, Kentucky, at a place called the Big Blue Sportsmen's Club, a cockfighting pit or arena. The coconspirators included persons who transported knives (called "gaffs") and the fighting cocks themselves across the state line from this judicial district into Kentucky. Mrs. Stumbo's husband and son, as well as the other charged coconspirators pleaded guilty but Mrs. Stumbo went to trial, where, following three days of testimony, the jury convicted her of all charges.

Mrs. Stumbo's husband, Walter Dale Stumbo, managed the cockfighting operation, with the assistance of her son, Joshua Dale Stumbo. Cockfights were held Friday and Saturday nights, with large amounts of money awarded to winning owners, as well as side betting by spectators. The government showed that Mrs. Stumbo managed the restaurant located on the premises, issued identification cards for attendees, sold premium seat tickets to spectators, and distributed cockfighting supplies. She also took photographs of winning owners and handlers for display in the arena and paid off winners who used the gambling machines located there.

Mrs. Stumbo testified in her own behalf, and while she admitted her participation in the operation of the cockfighting venture, minimized her involvement, claiming that she did not like cockfighting and had participated only because her husband had asked her to do so, and that she had been simply "following orders."

During the government's cross examination of Mrs. Stumbo, the following occurred:

Q Did you know she [a cockfighting participant] was from Virginia?
A I knew they were from somewhere in Virginia.
Q Okay. And you knew they were coming there to fight ...

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