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Judge: Poospatuck cigarette magnate had rival murdered

A federal judge ruled Friday that Poospatuck Indian Reservation cigarette magnate Rodney Morrison had one rival murdered and another robbed, despite a jury's earlier acquittal of Morrison on those charges.

U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley, in federal court in Central Islip, said he plans to include the murder and robbery in his calculations when he sentences Morrison at the end of February.

The judge's decision means that Morrison could be sentenced to 30 years in prison instead of only the time he so far has served, which his attorneys have argued. He has been held without bail since he was arrested almost six years ago.

Morrison, a multimillionaire cigarette bootlegger who once was a petty crack dealer in Brooklyn, held fingers tightly in each of his ears for much of the time that Hurley gave his decision, in an apparent effort to shut out the judge's words.

In 2008, a jury convicted Morrison of racketeering conspiracy in the commission of cigarette bootlegging from his Peace Pipe Smoke Shop on the Mastic reservation, as well as illegal possession of a gun. The jury acquitted him of murder in connection with the killing of Sherwin Henry, a rival smoke shop owner; and robbery and arson.

Hurley said he had "great respect for the jury - great respect for the Herculean task" they performed, but said he was required to adhere to a different standard in sentencing.

As a judge, he said, he was using a legal standard based on the preponderance of the evidence, rather than the standard used by the jury - guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Secondly, Hurley said, he was not ruling that the murder and robbery were committed as separate crimes, as the jury rejected, but as racketeering actions to support the cigarette bootlegging.

Morrison's lead attorney, William Murphy of Baltimore, and prosecutors James Miskiewicz and John Durham declined to comment.

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