After convicting a notorious crack kingpin with hip-hop industry ties of paying $50,000 (EUR 38,000) to have two rivals gunned down, a jury will now face the question of whether to sentence him to death.
Jurors will return next Tuesday to deliberate Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff's sentence in the same Brooklyn courthouse where another jury imposed the death penalty this week on the killer of two undercover police detectives. It marked the first time a federal defendant had been sentenced to death in New York City since 1954.
At best, McGriff would face a sentence of life in prison without parole.
"We're pretty confident this jury will spare his life," McGriff's lawyer, David Ruhnke, said after his client was found guilty Thursday of murder for hire and drug dealing. Acquitted on lesser drugs and weapons charges, McGriff looked back and smiled at his supporters when the verdict was issued, the AP reports.
One victim's mother, Karen Cameron, told reporters outside court that she opposed a death sentence for McGriff. "Death is not the answer," she said.
In the 1980s, McGriff founded the Supreme Team, a notoriously lucrative and ruthless drug crew that became legendary on the same streets in the city's Queens borough that later produced such rap stars as Ja Rule and 50 Cent.
The defense had claimed that after serving several years behind bars for an earlier drug conviction, McGriff went straight in the late 1990s and pursued his dream of producing movies and music by teaming with Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo, a neighborhood friend who headed the successful Murder Inc. record label.
Prosecutors alleged that McGriff, 46, instead resumed his drug dealing operations in New York and Baltimore, and used Murder Inc. to launder more than $1 million in proceeds. After a little-known rapper named E-Money Bags shot and killed one of McGriff's friends in a 1999 dispute, the defendant allegedly paid a Harlem hit team in 2001 to kill the rapper and a second man who McGriff feared might retaliate.
The defense told jurors that both victims were known thugs who were armed when killed. It also argued that the government had built its case on the false testimony of admitted criminals hoping to see their prison time reduced.
McGriff was originally indicted along with Lorenzo and Lorenzo's brother Chris, a Murder Inc. executive. After being granted a separate trial, the brothers were acquitted in 2005 of money-laundering charges.
McGriff succeeded in making a straight-to-video film, "Crime Partners 2000," that featured Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T. The movie, about two hit men, was released in 2001.