Extra legal counsel appointed for four defendants in the largest and most violent drug case ever tried in Memphis federal court will remain on the job, but they will take a pay cut.
U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays issued the ruling this week after federal prosecutors sought to have the extra attorneys dismissed because the government will not seek the federal death penalty against Demetrious Fields, Clinton Lewis, Martin Lewis and Clarence Broady.
They, along with Craig Petties, the alleged head of the multi-state drug organization with direct ties to the splintered Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico, faced the possibility of the death penalty specifically because of murder for hire and kidnapping charges, some involving the murders of government informants.
“That a defendant loses the right to two attorneys following the government’s decision not to seek the death penalty does not mean that courts must dismiss one attorney,” Mays wrote in his ruling. “Dismissing counsel at this stage would significantly increase the work for each of the primary counsel, delaying and disrupting the proceedings in this case. The government decided not to seek the death penalty after the case was well-advanced.”
Mays termed the case “extraordinarily complex,” estimating a trial will last four to six weeks and could include testimony from 30 government witnesses.
The decision to seek the federal death penalty is made by the highest ranking officials of the U.S. Justice Department in a formal procedure called mitigation. Defense attorneys are given the opportunity to argue before Justice Department officials in Washington that the background and other factors in the lives of their clients mitigate against the death penalty.
They did that and in July, the Justice Department announced it would not seek the death penalty against the four.
Neither prosecutors nor attorneys for Petties have said what the decision was on him. But the government made no effort to dismiss his capital counsel.
The Justice Department decision came two years after Mays appointed legal counsel for many of the defendants in the case involving murder-for-hire charges as well as racketeering, money laundering and drug distribution.
It is the largest drug case ever tried in Memphis federal court, with a set of seven superseding indictments from 2002 to 2008 that name over 40 people allegedly involved in the multistate drug ring who are charged and not charged.