WASHINGTON – U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton today sentenced Azibo Aquart to death for murdering three Bridgeport, Conn., residents on Aug. 24, 2005, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, David B. Fein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut and Kimberly K. Mertz, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in New Haven.
“Azibo Aquart carried out heinous crimes, and committed horrific acts of violence,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “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.”
“This defendant planned and carried out the brutal bludgeoning murders of three defenseless victims,” said U.S. Attorney Fein. “On this day, we remember the victims, their families and loved ones. I commend our law enforcement partners who tirelessly investigated this matter, notably the FBI, Bridgeport Police Department, Connecticut State Police, Connecticut Department of Correction’s Intelligence Unit, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bridgeport States Attorney’s Office, for their persistence and dedication to the cause of justice.”
“These types of investigations are extremely difficult to investigate for a variety of reasons, but especially because of the nature of the crimes and the level of violence involved,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Mertz. “Our thoughts are with the victims of this horrible crime and their families. We are extremely proud of the local, state and federal agents and investigators assigned to this matter who have worked diligently to bring the defendant and his co-conspirators to justice. The importance of their collective efforts cannot be overstated.”
On May 23, 2011, after a month-long trial, a federal jury found Aquart, 31, of Bridgeport, guilty of the murders of Tina Johnson, her boyfriend James Reid and friend Basil Williams. According to the evidence disclosed during the trial, Aquart, also known as “Azibo Smith,” “Azibo Siwatu Jahi Smith,” “D,” “Dreddy” and “Jumbo,” was the founder and leader of a drug trafficking group that primarily sold crack cocaine out of an apartment building located at 215 Charles Street in Bridgeport. Aquart and his associates participated in acts of violence, such as threats and assaults, to maintain their control over the group’s drug distribution activities at the Charles Street Apartments. In the summer of 2005, Aquart and his associates became involved in a drug trafficking dispute with Johnson, a resident of 215 Charles Street who sometimes sold smaller quantities of crack cocaine without Aquart’s approval. On the morning of Aug. 24, 2005, Azibo Aquart, assisted by Azikiwe Aquart, Efrain Johnson and John Taylor, entered Apartment 101 at 215 Charles Street and murdered Johnson, Reid and Williams.
During the trials of Azibo Aquart and Efrain Johnson, the government offered extensive forensic evidence gathered from the apartment, including fingerprints and evidence that contained DNA from Azibo Aquart and his co-conspirators. Azibo Aquart’s fingerprint was found on a piece of duct tape recovered from the crime scene, and Johnson’s DNA was found on a torn piece of a latex glove that was stuck to the duct tape used to bind one of the victim’s wrists.
Azibo Aquart was found guilty of conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering and committing the racketeering murders of Johnson, Reid and Williams. The jury also found Azibo Aquart guilty of committing three counts of drug-related murder. In addition, Azibo Aquart was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine.
On June 15, 2011, the jury unanimously determined that Azibo Aquart should be sentenced to death for committing both the racketeering and drug-related murders of Johnson and Williams, but could not reach a unanimous decision as to an appropriate penalty – life in prison or death – for the racketeering and drug-related murder of Reid. With respect to the murder of Reid, Judge Arterton imposed a term of life in prison.
This is the first time since the federal death penalty was reinstituted in 1988 that the death penalty has been imposed on a federal defendant in Connecticut.
Judge Arterton also sentenced Aquart today to 10 years in prison for conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering and life in prison for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base. In addition, Aquart was ordered to pay $17,106 in restitution to the families of the three victims to cover funeral expenses.
On Aug. 26, 2011, Azibo Aquart’s brother, Azikiwe Aquart, also known as “Z” and “Ziggy,” pleaded guilty to three counts of murder in aid of racketeering. In pleading guilty, he admitted that agreed to participate in what he believed would be a robbery with his brother and others and, after entering the apartment, he committed the murder of James Reid while other participants in the crime murdered Tina Johnson and Basil Williams. On December 12, 2011, Azikiwe Aquart was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport to a mandatory term of life in prison.
On Feb. 24, 2012, a jury found Efrain Johnson, also known as “Pootney,” guilty of three counts of murder in aid of racketeering. When he is sentenced by Judge Arterton, he also faces a mandatory term of life in prison.
On Oct. 18, 2010, John Taylor pleaded guilty to three counts of murder in aid of racketeering. On April 16, 2012, he was sentenced to 108 months in prison. In sentencing Taylor, Judge Arterton credited him for his assistance to the prosecution of his three co-defendants, the extensive testimony he provided during two trials, and his sincere remorse.
This case was investigated by the FBI; Bridgeport Police Department; Connecticut State Police; Connecticut Department of Correction’s Intelligence Unit; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; Bridgeport States Attorney’s Office and the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tracy L. Dayton, Peter D. Markle, Alina P. Reynolds of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, and Trial Attorney Jacabed Rodriguez-Coss of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Capital Case Unit.