Memphis drug kingpin Craig Petties will be in prison for the rest of his life for heading a violent drug organization with direct ties to a Mexican drug cartel that sold millions of dollars worth of drugs in a multi-state area centered in Memphis from 1995 to 2008.
Petties was sentenced Thursday, Aug. 22, by U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to nine life prison sentences and 165 years in prison with all of the sentences to run concurrently.
“Mr. Petties has committed more serious crimes than anyone I have sentenced,” Mays said. “He organized and was the leader of a massive criminal enterprise. Those drugs went to destroy untold numbers of people’s lives.”
Some of the life sentences were mandatory for the crimes Petties pleaded guilty to in a closed 2009 hearing, one year after his capture in Mexico and his return to Memphis to face the charges.
Some of the charges had a maximum life sentence and Mays imposed the maximum sentence for them and for other charges including five years for having a homemade weapon in his prison cell at Memphis Federal Correctional Institution.
His attorneys did not argue in open court for a reduction in his sentences. But they and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Pritchard met with Mays privately in his chambers before the sentencing hearing.
Earlier hearings this month saw his attorneys making the case that Petties had cooperated with the investigation and should receive a lesser sentence for that cooperation. Pritchard argued then the cooperation only corroborated what other members of the organization had already told authorities when they entered guilty pleas before Petties.
“We would allow the court to make its decision,” defense attorney Jeffrey B. O’Toole told Mays Thursday. “I think the court has very little discretion.”
Parts of the case, including Petties’ guilty plea, have been sealed or conducted in court sessions closed to the public. The guilty plea wasn’t revealed until more than a year later.
The counts Petties admitted to in the federal indictment that underwent six revisions over the years from its original 2002 single count included the murders of four of the six people whose murders were detailed in the charges. He pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, drug conspiracy, murder in the aid of racketeering, kidnapping in the aid of racketeering and murder for hire conspiracy.
Petties made a brief statement before he was sentenced, turning to a courtroom gallery that included family members such as the mother of one of the six people he and those in his organization were accused of killing.
“I apologize,” he said to a courtroom that was heavily guarded by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Mays said Petties had accepted responsibility for his crimes with the guilty plea.
“I’m also considering the full record of this case,” he said. “I have to protect the public from Mr. Petties. The crimes alone would suggest that.”
Before imposing the sentence, Mays heard from Lucy Turner, the mother of Marcus Turner, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed by the drug organization following the theft of an estimated $4 million worth of cocaine from one of the organization’s Memphis stash houses.
“He has done so many things,” she said standing just a few feet from Petties. “He has damaged so many people.”
After the hearing, Turner said she drove her granddaughter to school Thursday morning before coming to Federal Court and that the child asked if it was the day the man who killed her father would be sent to prison.
U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton termed the Petties organization “the most notorious, most violent, largest drug organization in the state of Tennessee.”
“We believe the organization is dismantled,” he said. “This entire community was a victim.”
He wouldn’t comment on information from sealed hearings that might indicate other crimes and said his office is always looking for leads on other crimes.
“Our work is undone, but this is a day that we believe justice has been done,” Stanton said after the hearing.
Mays, at the end of the hearing again called the crimes “the most serious set of crimes I’ve ever seen.”
“I hope you have time to think about it. I think you already have,” he said to Petties. “There’s not much I can say that’s good. I think in the last few years, you’ve tried to come to terms with your responsibility. You haven’t backed away from it.”