Updated: Monday, 17 Dec 2012, 11:20 PM EST
Published : Monday, 17 Dec 2012, 11:19 PM EST
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday sentenced a Connecticut drug dealer to death for the 2005 killings of three people in Bridgeport in a turf dispute over crack cocaine sales.
U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven imposed the sentence on Azibo Aquart, 31, who becomes the first federal court defendant in Connecticut to receive the death penalty since federal capital punishment was reinstated in 1988. Aquart's lawyer vowed to appeal the sentence to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City.
Prosecutors said Aquart, his brother and two other men took part in the killings of 43-year-old Tina Johnson, 40-year-old James Reid and 54-year-old Basil Williams, who were beaten to death with baseball bats on Aug. 24, 2005, and found bound with duct tape in Johnson's apartment.
Authorities said Johnson had been selling crack cocaine in Aquart's drug turf in the Charles Street Apartments without his permission. Prosecutors said Aquart and his associates were involved in numerous acts of violence to maintain control over their drug selling activities in the apartment complex.
"Azibo Aquart carried out heinous crimes, and committed horrific acts of violence," Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in a statement. "There is no joy on this day — only the recognition that we must continue not only to seek justice for victims of violent crime, but also to do all we can to prevent and deter drug trafficking and the terror that so often accompanies it."
Justin Smith, a New Haven lawyer for Aquart, declined to discuss specifics of the case, but said he expected to file an appeal within two weeks.
Defense lawyers have said in court documents that a key prosecution witness gave false testimony during Aquart's trial. Defense lawyers also accused prosecutors of making improper comments during closing arguments. Prosecutors have denied the allegations.
Aquart's brother, Azikiwe Aquart, and another associate, John Taylor, pleaded guilty to racketeering murder and are serving life prison sentences. A fourth defendant, Efrain Johnson, was convicted by a jury of racketeering murder last February and faces a mandatory life prison sentence.