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VOL. 126 | NO. 244 | Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rules for Federal Drug Case Still Being Formed

By Bill Dries

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The words “inordinate” and “extraordinary” keep coming up in the court documents for the largest drug case ever brought in Memphis federal court, even though the case is now down to two defendants who are scheduled to go to trial next month.

Martin Lewis and Clinton Lewis are charged with drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder for hire.

Seven codefendants, including Craig Petties, the head of the drug organization with direct ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

Some could testify during the Lewises’ trial, which is expected to take about a month.

Marty McAfee and Derek Drennan, attorneys for Martin Lewis, continue to seek to keep out recordings of phone calls he allegedly made in 2007 from the Shelby County Corrections Center.

A corrections officer who retrieved the conversations is expected to testify that Lewis used the identification number of another inmate to call a girlfriend who then made a three-way call to Marcus Brandon.

The officer, according to Magistrate Judge Diane Vescovo’s report and recommendation to U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays on the motion to suppress, recognized Lewis’ voice and said Lewis had called the same number using his own identification number.

“In this three-way call, Lewis made several threats to Marcus Brandon,” the report summary filed Dec. 1 reads. “In support of his threats, Lewis stated that he just ‘exed’ somebody.”

Brandon is one of several dozen names that appear in the seven sets of indictments in the drug case. He is not among those charged. But he may be one of many witnesses the government intends to call.

Attorneys for Clinton Lewis, meanwhile, want daily trial transcripts “because of both the extraordinary number of witnesses that the government is expected to present and the length of the trial.”

With the anticipated flood of testimonies, attorneys James Simmons and Anne Tipton anticipate “an inordinate number of contradictions between the government’s witnesses.”

They also want security to be kept to a minimum.

In a separate filing this month, Tipton and Simmons expressed concern the security measures will create “several sources of potential prejudice” for the jury.

“It will be impossible for the jury not to become aware of additional security measures that are put into place,” they wrote in the Dec. 5 filing. “Jurors may perceive and thereafter assume from the use of overt heightened security measures that the defendant is a dangerous person.”

As of that filing, the precise security measures were not set. But the filing indicates the United States Marshals Service could have a greater courtroom presence than normal, might conduct a second screening of those sitting in the courtroom and could limited some to watching the trial from a closed-circuit television hookup to another room in the federal building.

Prosecutors Greg Gilluly and David Pritchard responded to the filing by saying the government defers to the U.S. Marshals Service on security procedures, but that invisible shackles or a “stun belt” delivering an electric jolt could be used without prejudicing the jury.

“Both remaining defendants are accused of committing violent acts to further the ends of the organization,” they wrote in a Tuesday, Dec. 13, filing. “As such, it is important to consider the use of additional security measures during the course of the trial.”

At a Nov. 29 attorney conference, Mays said the jury might not be sequestered during the trial but that he would stick with selecting an “anonymous jury.”

Gilluly and Pritchard defined that in an earlier motion as a jury pool from the Jackson, Tenn., area for which attorneys’ questioning would be limited so potential jurors’ names and addresses are not disclosed.

The prosecution made the request when there were four defendants awaiting trial on the same racketeering, drug distribution and murder-for-hire charges. Since then, co-defendants Clarence Broady and Demetrious Fields have pleaded guilty.

The filing, which was later sealed, offered more information about specifics in the nearly ten-year-old case than previous filings in the public court file.

It also alleged Petties worked directly for Sinaloa cartel boss Edgar Valdez-Villareal, also known as “La Barbie.” Valdez was captured a year ago near Mexico City and his capture was touted by both Mexican and U.S. authorities as another indication of the unraveling of the violent cartel.

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