VOL. 127 | NO. 31 | Wednesday, February 15, 2012
UPDATE: Jury Hears Recording of Hit Man Talking With Petties Target
By Bill Dries
Big drug dealers don’t count the money as soon as they make a drug deal. They wait until they leave the exchange to count it.
That was among the details offered Tuesday, Feb. 14, in the full-day of testimony by Orlando Pride, a long time member of the violent multi-state drug organization headed by Craig Petties.
Pride testified in the federal drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder for hire trial of Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis.
“It takes too long,” he said when asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly if money was counted at exchanges of drugs for money. “You can’t sit on a Kroger lot and count $200,000 or $300,000.”
Meanwhile, Pride, who is serving a 21-year plus prison sentence for his part in the conspiracy, was grilled by attorneys for the Lewises. They questioned his motives and how much blood he had on his hands from his time near the top of the organization.
The grilling continued in court Wednesday, Feb. 15, as his cousin, Tobias Pride, testified. As the trial broke for lunch, Pride said he wanted his attorney present during the rest of his cross examination.
Pride is serving a 13 year state prison sentence for the murder of Antonio Allen, one of the murders attributed to the Petties drug organization.
He verified a recorded conversation between him and Mario Stewart, another person killed by the drug organization, that was played for the jury. Stewart was wearing a wire for investigators at the time. Pride can be heard telling Stewart that the organization wants Stewart killed because they believe he is also cooperating with authorities.
Stewart insisted he wasn't but Pride said the organization was convinced he was cooperating
Pride said he had turned down the $50,000 contract on Stewart's life because of their close relationship.
Stewart continually tried to get Pride to talk about the murder of Allen and after a lot of reluctance to do so, Pride eventually said he killed Allen. Pride also said Petties had some documents or statements "in black and white" that verified Allen had been cooperating with authorities.
The recording was an important piece of evidence in the state case against Pride. It also sealed Stewart's fate with the organization.
Neither Clinton nor Martin Lewis are implicated or charged in the murder of Allen or Stewart. The government's case is a broad outline of the drug organization and its reach.
Pride was a very reluctant witness. He was told to speak up several times and told prosecutors that he didn't remember exactly who hired him to kill Allen.
Defense attorney Anne Tipton showed a picture of Allen dead in the driver's seat of his car on the large screen in the courtroom to open her cross examination.
"You're a cold blooded killer aren't you?" she asked. Pride said no.
"As long as its over $50,000, you'll kill somebody. Won't you?" she asked. "You had a conscience about killing Mr. Stewart. But you had no conscience about hiding in the bushes and killing Antonio Allen."
Tipton also questioned why Pride was charged with voluntary manslaughter and not included in the federal murder for hire conspiracy charges.
At one point, Pride left the stand during a break in the trial and nodded at both defendants as he walked to a holding area outside the courtroom.
His cousin, Orlando Pride, testified Tuesday that he was present at a meeting in Mexico between Petties and the Sinaloa drug cartel boss Edgar Valdez-Villareal, also known as “La Barbie” when Valdez became the direct supplier of Petties’ multi-state marijuana and cocaine operation.
Valdez began supplying Petties after Reuben Laurel of Laredo, Texas – the middleman – was arrested and charged by U.S. authorities.
The Memphis group, led by Petties, drove to Little Rock and flew from there to Laredo, according to Pride. They were met there by a group of “heavily armed” men who drove them across the border to the meeting.
“Everybody got a machine gun and M16s and they drove real fast,” Pride said, adding that the entourage “had some kind of pull” at the border that allowed them to speed right through without being checked.
It wasn’t the only testimony from Pride about people who helped the drug organization through apparent ties to officialdom.
He described Geraldine Galloway, the president of Nationwide Bail Bond Inc., as having “some kind of connect with the government – with Shelby County and the police.”
Pride testified that Galloway bought all of the cars that members of the organization used and registered them in the names of other people. She also had some kind of connection to law enforcement, according to Pride who said she told Petties in 2001 that Allen had been cooperating with police and federal investigators.
Pride said he was at a meeting at Petties house with several others in the inner circle where Petties decided to have Allen killed. At first, Petties wanted to hire killers from Mexico. But Pride suggested they use his cousin, Tobias Pride, for the hit.
Despite being at the meeting and suggesting his cousin for the job, Pride insisted on cross examination that he did not play a role in Allen’s murder.
“I don’t feel that’s taking a part in the killing. … I was not the one that killed him,” Pride said. “I was not the one that paid to kill him.”
“That man got killed after those words were spoken,” defense attorney Marty McAfee said as he grilled Pride on the meeting to decide Allen’s fate.
“I don’t know,” Pride answered.
“You’re sticking to that, aren’t you?” McAfee replied.
Pride also said Petties fled to Mexico in April 2002 specifically because Tino Harris, whom he ranked as the number two leader in the organization after Petties, was arrested with a kilo of cocaine on the parking lot of Southland Mall and authorities found 39 more kilos in a search of his home.
“Everybody was stunned,” Pride said of the reaction of the inner circle. And Galloway, according to Pride, said Harris was cooperating with authorities.
“We felt like Tino would start working with authorities,” Pride said. Petties ran the drug organization from Mexico until his capture in January 2008.
Shelby County’s 10 Criminal Court Judges revoked Nationwide’s court approval to write bonds last March.
Their written statement said Galloway and others at Nationwide “made a mockery of these courts and the laws of the state of Tennessee.”
They specifically cited her guilty plea to federal money laundering charges connected to the Petties drug organization.
Tipton challenged Pride on his statement that he is a “real honest person” asking him why he bought cars and houses in other names and diluted cocaine that was sold to customers without telling them.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do with cocaine when it’s 100 percent,” he replied.
Pride also acknowledged that he hopes to get his prison sentence reduced because of his testimony but that no promises have been made by prosecutors.
“You hope to get a whole lot of time off, don’t you?” Tipton asked. “And you’re a real honest person.”
“And I got a real lot of time,” he responded.
The money counting strategy created problems occasionally. It was a factor in the growing tension between Petties and Latrell Small, a drug dealer the organization supplied.
Small handed over a box to Lorenzo Taylor, part of the Petties inner circle, that was supposed to be payment for drugs. When Taylor got the box back to his Collierville home, Pride testified that Taylor was enraged when he opened it and found a cement brick inside.
It was the beginning of a feud that Pride said began when Small accused Petties of stealing his girlfriend and promised there would be “consequences.”
Small is one of the six victims in the murder for hire counts of the seven sets of indictments in the case.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys are seeking an Olive Branch, Mississippi police officer who investigated the 2006 murder of Marcus Turner.
Turner’s murder is the murder for hire charge Clinton Lewis is facing in the trial.
Defense attorneys want to call Police Lt. Kevin McKenzie who is now in Honduras.
But they reached McKenzie earlier this week and McKenzie refused to come back.
The defense filed a copy of McKenzie’s 27-page investigative case log on the homicide.
The notes chronicle his investigation and interviews with witnesses as well as suspects.
At one point in the investigation, McKenzie was interested in matching bullets taken from Turner’s body to a gun seized by Memphis police when they arrested Marcus Brandon on an unrelated offense after Turner’s murder.
McKenzie writes that Brandon was trying to get the gun back following his arrest but the gun was held and tested to see if it matched the bullet from Turner. It did not, according to the notes.
Vacha Vaughn, a one-time codefendant in the federal Petties case, also told McKenzie that he was present when Brandon and Clinton Lewis approached Turner with guns drawn and forced him into the trunk of Brandon’s car the night of his murder.