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Amany Raya

Other Virginia exonerations with female exonerees
On August 10, 2017, 41-year-old Monta Jordan was arrested near Roanoke, Virginia, on federal charges of trafficking in fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. As part of the federal government’s investigation of Jordan, agents approached his girlfriend, Amany Raya, in an attempt to persuade her to provide information about Jordan’s drug trafficking.

Raya refused to cooperate, despite being arrested and interrogated for hours and being threatened that she might be prosecuted in the case as well. At Jordan’s bond hearing, a prosecutor suggested that Raya was complicit in Jordan’s drug trafficking.

While awaiting trial in U.S. District Court, Jordan was held in the Roanoke City Jail. In March 2018, jail authorities received information that Jordan was in possession of a cell phone and an electronic tablet, both of which were forbidden to inmates.

On March 2, 2018, a search was conducted, and two cell phones were recovered from inmates, including Jordan. Also on that day, a package arriving at the jail in the mail was intercepted and found to contain a third cell phone, a smart watch, and marijuana. The package was labeled “legal mail.”

Meanwhile, during this time, Raya had filed an application to become a U.S. citizen. After her application and background checks were completed, Raya attended her final interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department on October 25, 2018. Following approval, Raya, 37, was invited to attend a swearing-in ceremony on January 4, 2019 at the U.S. District Courthouse in Roanoke.

Coincidentally, Kari Munro, an assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the Jordan prosecution, was present. At the last minute, Raya was dropped from the program. She was told that a final background check had not been completed and that after it was, she would be invited back for the March 2019 ceremony.

Two weeks later, on January 19, 2019, a grand jury indicted Raya on charges of possession of marijuana and providing marijuana to a federal inmate. After her arrest, a federal agent offered to make the criminal charges “go away” and Raya could proceed with her citizenship if Raya would provide information on Jordan. Raya declined to assist the prosecutors.

The indictment was later superseded with a six-count indictment charging Raya with various offenses relating to the alleged attempt to provide contraband to Jordan at the jail. Raya was also charged with failing to disclose information to federal authorities as part of her citizenship application. The prosecution dismissed two of the six charges prior to trial.

Raya went to trial in U.S. District Court in January 2020. Munro and co-prosecutor Anthony Giorno presented evidence that a January 16, 2018 mailing that was not intercepted or opened by jail staff was logged in the jail’s legal correspondence log as coming from Raya.

On January 17, 2020, the jury convicted Raya of conspiring to provide contraband to Jordan during a two-month period in February and March 2018. Raya was also found guilty of knowingly attempting to obtain citizenship to which she was not entitled because she failed to disclose to USCIS that she had provided the contraband to Jordan and that she had been present with Jordan on a prior occasion when he had been detained and arrested. She was acquitted of a charge of providing the marijuana found in the package intercepted on March 2, 2018.

In July 2020, while still awaiting sentencing, Raya wrote a letter to the trial judge, Michael Urbanski, saying that in January, just prior to her trial, Raya’s defense lawyer received a letter from Jordan. The letter said prosecutors in Jordan’s case had turned over interviews with people who said that a man named Henry “Loon” Cooper was responsible for smuggling cell phones to Jordan and others at the Roanoke City Jail.

Raya said her defense attorney had failed to act on the information and that in April 2020, Jordan sent another letter with more information. The interviews had been conducted by the same DEA agent who testified in Raya’s trial. He never mentioned during his testimony that anyone had ever given information about others who smuggled phones and contraband into the jail.

“Your honor,” Raya wrote, “the reason I find this withholding of evidence from me to be so disturbing is because during my trial, the entire focus of the government was me, Amany Raya. They never disclosed to the jury or even you, Your Honor, that other people have been implicated in this case.”

Judge Urbanski then cancelled Raya’s scheduled sentencing. Not long after, Raya’s trial defense attorney, Michael Hemenway, withdrew. In August 2020, attorney Aaron Cook was appointed to represent Raya. Raya was released on bond on August 25, 2020.

In January 2021, Cook moved for a new trial. The motion noted that in May 2020, Hemenway sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s office requesting statements made by witnesses including January Benson, Amy Wheeling and Lewis Cheronowski, who was another federal prisoner being held at the Roanoke City Jail. Assistant U.S. Attorney Munro replied, “We have reviewed the reports and documents referenced in [Monta Jordan’s] letters and there is no indication that either woman made any such statement. Wheeling acknowledged talking with Jordan on a series of contraband phones, but provided no information about the source of the phones or about [Henry ‘Loon’] Cooper in relation to any phone.”

Munro also said that Benson said that “a lot of these guys in here have cell phones.” Munro said this “presumably” referenced a local jail and that unspecified people on the street thought someone at the jail was helping to get their phones to inmates.”

The motion for new trial noted that the statements could have provided evidence suggesting that Jordan received cell phones and contraband from a source that was not Raya.

“Here, the United States had in its possession in the related Jordan case (and apparently provided those statements to Jordan’s defense) at least two witness statements regarding phones inside the Roanoke City Jail,” the motion for new trial said. “One such statement was made to the government on March 5, 2018, when January Benson remarked about the abundance of cell phones in the jail and said that people she knew ‘thought someone at the jail was helping to get their phones to inmates.’ Indeed, the government also knew that its trial witness, Lt. Brandon Young, was informed of that rumor as well at the outset of his March 2019 investigation.”

“Neither fact was provided to the Defendant prior to trial,” the motion said. “Several days later on March 8, 2018, Krissy Robinson stated to law enforcement with an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the room that a man named Henry Cooper had been working to smuggle a phone to Jordan, that he was looking for someone to take it inside to him. She further stated that she had conversations with Jordan about [and on] his contraband phones and that Jordan instructed her ‘if law enforcement asked her about the packages, she needed to tell them it was marijuana.’”

The motion also said there was “a tip from Lewis Cheronowski that Jordan had in his possession a telephone as early as December 2017.” That information “only adds to the evidence that would lead the jury to ask the question: If Jordan had a phone in the jail as early as December and still had it in his possession on March 2, why would Amany take the risk of unnecessarily sending an additional phone to Jordan through the mail?”

A hearing was held before Judge Urbanski on May 5, 2021 on the motion for new trial or alternatively to dismiss the case for vindictive prosecution.

On May 7, 2021, new prosecutors came onto the case and requested an opportunity to file a supplemental response, even though the hearing had been held and all briefs were filed.

On May 14, 2021, the prosecution moved to dismiss the case.

“After a careful review of the record in this matter by new counsel, the government agrees that the documents at issue in the Motion for New Trial should have been disclosed in the course of discovery,” the prosecution said. “While the government believes that the suppression of these documents did not affect the result of the proceedings or put the case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict, in the interests of justice and given the specific facts and circumstances of this case, the government believes the appropriate resolution of this matter is dismissal of all charges with prejudice.”

On May 17, 2021, Judge Urbanski vacated Raya’s convictions and dismissed the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/25/2021
Last Updated: 5/25/2021
Most Serious Crime:Other Nonviolent Felony
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2018
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:37
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No