• Trial date set for convicted mobster turned government informant

    By: Jim Strickland


    SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. - The trial is now set in October for the convicted mobster turned government informant accused in a high-profile murder in Sandy Springs.

    Lawyers for three of the five suspects told a judge they do not want to be at the same defense table as Mani Chulpayev, former mobster and car dealer turned informant.

    While they faced the judge none of the lawyers wanted their clients facing Channel 2's camera.

    Leading the objections was attorney Bruce Harvey. His client, Decensae White, is a California basketball standout who is suspected of being part of a bad drug deal that ended with the execution-style murder of Melvin Vernell III also known as the rapper Lil Phat.

    Harvey argued that the presence of Channel 2's camera would hurt his client's shot at a fair trial by reporting and rereporting background on the case.

    "All the coverage does at this point is allow the electronic media to re-present what has already been presented, prejudicing the potential jury pool," he argued to Judge Craig Schwall.

    Consumer investigator Jim Strickland spoke in court, telling the judge the case is of high interest not only in Atlanta but in White's home town, near San Francisco. Strickland argued Harvey was likely aware WSB-TV's Bay-area sister station, KTVU, may also have interest in the video.

    Schwall allowed Strickland's camera to stay, then allowed a motion for former mobster Mani Chulpayev to go to trial by himself. Chulpayev claims he was unaware a tracker placed in the Audi he leased to the victim was, according to prosecutors, used to direct two hit men to target Vernell at Northside Hospital.

    Chulpayev also pled not guilty to charges he was selling stolen cars.

    That case led to Strickland's initial investigation, which prosecutors credit for helping identify suspects in the Lil Phat murder.

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