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VOL. 127 | NO. 57 | Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fed. Drug Trial Moves to Conclusion

By Bill Dries

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It may have been one of the more unusual PowerPoint presentations. Closing arguments in the Craig Petties drug organization trial in Memphis federal court began Tuesday, March 20, with the presentations most associated with corporate workshops and seminars adapted to summarize what has been a complex set of events covering seven years.

The multiple panels in several of the slides showed police mug shots and family photos of each of the six people murdered by the drug organization, tiled with adjoining morgue and crime scene photos of them.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Pritchard began with the April 2001 police call to a house on West Emory Road in South Memphis, where a patrol officer found Petties, his angry girlfriend and several other people – along with 600 pounds of unpackaged marijuana in duffel bags.

“That was the beginning of the investigation into Craig Petties,” Pritchard told the jury.

He then fast-forwarded to the 2007 foot chase of Martin Lewis by police in which Lewis knocked down two officers before he was arrested, and Clinton Lewis, that same year, trying to climb out the second-story window of an apartment as police came for him.

“Those are sort of the bookends of this investigation,” Pritchard said. “This was an enterprise that would basically stop at nothing.”

Martin Lewis and Clinton Lewis are the last two defendants from an investigation that took in more than 40 people – murder victims, drug dealers supplied by the organization and those within the organization. Some, including drug kingpin Petties, were charged with the Lewises but pleaded guilty. Others have pleaded guilty in connecting federal cases, and others either have been convicted by juries or pleaded guilty to state charges.

Defense attorneys for the Lewises say that is a pattern for drug cases. Those higher in the organization plead guilty and make deals to cut their prison time, leaving those lower on the ladder of the organization to do hard time.

Pritchard argued an organization like the Petties organization has never been prosecuted in federal court here before.

Another PowerPoint slide showed a map of the continental United States with 11 states in red – states where the organization sold and distributed cocaine.

“It started out as a small group,” Pritchard told the jury as he showed a Google map of the section of West Dison Avenue called “The Track,” where many of those who started the organization, including Petties, lived and saw cars line up to buy crack every night when they were grade-schoolers. “It ended up having an international reach.”

Defense attorneys Anne Tipton and Marty McAfee made the same points they did in their opening statements six weeks ago and during the cross-examination of most of former organization members who testified for the government. They attacked the credibility of the witnesses who, in or out of custody currently, have lengthy criminal records. Some have never held a legitimate job.

“They are criminals basically,” Pritchard admitted as he dealt with the issue of how the jury should evaluate the truthfulness of witnesses who in many cases told several versions of critical events during their testimony in the trial, proffer sessions with investigators and their testimony before federal grand juries.

“Use your common sense,” he added.

Federal court Judge Hardy Mays was to read 71 pages of instructions on the law to the jury Wednesday, March 21, just before turning the case over to a jury of 12 with five alternates. Still to be decided is which of the 17 on the panel will be designated alternates and sent home as deliberations begin.

Mays also announced Tuesday, March 20, that he will wait until the jury reaches a verdict before ruling on defense motions to acquit Martin and Clinton Lewis on the grounds that the prosecution did not prove its case. The “rule 29” motions are routinely made by the defense at the end of the prosecution’s proof.

Meanwhile, Petties is still scheduled to be sentenced March 30 by Mays. A notation on his court calendar for that day estimates the sentencing hearing will take all day. Petties’ sentencing has been delayed numerous times. He faces the possibility of life in prison for his 2009 guilty plea to drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder-for-hire charges.

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