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Jury Convicts Cocaine Kingpin of 43 Felonies

Times Staff Writer

Cocaine kingpin Elrader (Ray Ray) Browning Jr., who twice in the last decade eluded the state’s efforts to convict him of murder or arson, was found guilty Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court of 43 drug-related felonies, one of which will send him to prison for the rest of his life.

A second defendant, James H. (Doc) Holiday, a former leader of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang, was found guilty of two of the four drug-related offenses with which he was charged. Holiday faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

“Obviously we’re very happy,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. John S. Gordon, one of two prosecutors in the case. Browning, Gordon said, “has lived a charmed life up until now, and basically that’s what this case was about. . . , to make sure that if we did our job . . . that was the end of the matter.”

Listens Impassively

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Browning, 33, listened impassively as U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson read the jury’s verdicts. Holiday, 46, leaned back in his chair at the counsel table. Both men were dressed in blue prison jump suits. Both had acted as their own lawyers.

According to testimony during the 2 1/2-week trial, Browning’s organization each month distributed as much as 80 kilograms of cocaine and lesser amounts of heroin in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Inglewood, Oakland and Detroit. The value of the transactions has been variously estimated at between $1.5 and $2 million.

The jury deliberated just over three days before returning the verdicts. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 22.

“We’ll be back,” Browning’s court-appointed advisory counsel, Richard D. Burda, said outside the courtroom. He said Browning plans to appeal Wilson’s decision to admit as evidence telephone conversations among Browning, his lieutenants and their customers that were secretly recorded by federal agents.

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Burda said Browning believes that he represented himself well before the jury. However, Burda quoted Browning as saying, “Once those tapes were in, I knew I couldn’t win the case. You can’t impeach a piece of vinyl.”

Holiday’s advisory counsel, Ivan L. Klein, said only that both he and Holiday were disappointed in the verdict.

The government’s case against Browning and Holiday rested largely on the tape-recorded conversations and the testimony of three key witnesses: Nei Wells, who told jurors that she acted both as Browning’s girlfriend and his second-in-command; John (Big John) Milan, who testified that he was a drug runner and “enforcer” for Browning’s organization, and Marvin Adams, a convicted felon and government informant who, at the government’s behest, purchased cocaine and heroin from the drug ring.

The three sketched a detailed picture of Browning’s operation, naming suppliers, lieutenants, foot soldiers and customers. According to Wells’ testimony, those customers included Holiday and several of his associates, who, the government argued, distributed cocaine in the Hollywood area.

In his closing argument to the jury, Browning sought to portray Wells, Milan and Adams as liars who would say anything to please the government. Both Wells and Milan have pleaded guilty to drug charges stemming from the investigation. Neither has been sentenced. Browning suggested that it was actually Wells and her father who ran the drug distribution operation, and not himself.

But in the end, Gordon said Wednesday, the strongest evidence against Browning came from his own lips. “The wiretap evidence out of his own mouth was so overwhelming, he couldn’t explain it. And he didn’t,” the prosecutor said.

Arguing in his defense, Holiday told jurors that he had allowed an associate to use his name only to enable the associate to conduct drug business with Browning’s organization. Holiday said he had no part in those transactions. The associate testified on Holiday’s behalf, saying that he lied when he told Wells that he was buying drugs for Holiday.

At least some jurors apparently believed that story, Gordon said, because the panel could not reach agreement on whether Holiday was guilty of two charges: conspiracy and one count of drug trafficking. The government will not seek to re-try Holiday on those charges, in which a mistrial was declared, said Special Assistant U.S. Atty. Lisa B. Lench.

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Browning was found guilty of all the charges against him. The most serious allegation was that he acted as the principal administrator of a continuing criminal enterprise that distributed large quantities of drugs. Under a law passed by Congress in 1986, conviction brings a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Both Browning and Holiday have a long history of trouble with the law.

When he was 19 years old, Browning began serving a state prison sentence of five years to life for second-degree murder, according to prison records. He was paroled in 1976, but the parole was revoked two years later. He was again released on Jan. 1, 1979, the records state.

On Aug. 12, 1979, a man who one eyewitness later identified as Browning walked into a Pacoima cafe, pulled a gun and shot to death two men in what state prosecutors said was a revenge attack prompted by a drug robbery. Authorities said the killings were ordered by the victim of the robbery--Holiday.

Both Browning and Holiday were charged with two counts of murder in what authorities came to call the “Lucky’s Cafe” case, after the restaurant. Neither was convicted. A California Supreme Court decision effectively threw out the testimony of the witness who identified Browning as the triggerman because the witness had been hypnotized in an attempt to refresh her memory.

Holiday subsequently was convicted of the attempted murder of a woman who figured in the Lucky’s Cafe case. He had been convicted of murder in 1961 and had served time for that offense.

In 1983, Browning was found guilty of shooting into and firebombing a Pasadena home in an incident that authorities said was drug-related. However, the conviction was overturned on appeal and Browning was acquitted in a second trial.

He was released from custody in that case in September, 1985. About a month later, Nei Wells testified, Browning began organizing the drug ring whose activities resulted in Wednesday’s guilty verdicts.

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