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VOL. 126 | NO. 180 | Thursday, September 15, 2011

Feds Seek Anonymous Jury in Drug Case

By Bill Dries

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Federal prosecutors want an “anonymous jury” for the trial next year of four men accused of being contract killers for the largest drug ring ever tried in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Greg Gilluly and David Pritchard filed the motion earlier this month in the case of Demetrious Fields, Clarence Broady, Martin Lewis and Clinton Lewis.

They are the four remaining defendants out of nine in a federal investigation that began in 2002. Through seven sets of indictments, prosecutors outlined a large, violent, multi-state drug organization with direct ties to the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel. The organization was headed by Craig Petties, who worked directly for the cartel during six years as a fugitive in Mexico. He was captured there in 2008 and returned to the U.S.

Petties has pleaded guilty to numerous charges including racketeering and murder for hire. He is awaiting sentencing.

Petties and the others are accused of ordering and carrying out the murders of six people who were either suspected of cooperating with federal investigators or who somehow ran afoul of the organization. Their trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 17 before Memphis federal court Judge Hardy Mays.

Gilluly and Pritchard want to select the jury from the Jackson, Tenn., area, which is the eastern part of the federal court’s western division. They also want to sequester the jury and limit questioning of the jury pool so that neither the name nor the address of any potential juror will be disclosed.

“The defendants in the case at hand are very dangerous persons who were participants in large-scale organized crime, and who participated in mob-style killings and had previously attempted to interfere with judicial process,” the attorneys wrote in their Sept. 8 filing.

The Daily News accessed a copy of the motion on the federal court website before it was ordered sealed by Mays. In the request, the prosecutors present part of their case, which states Fields allegedly coordinated “the majority of the murders.”

“In addition to murders, these defendants and the organization used violence to punish those who crossed the organization,” the filing reads. “And they bribed witnesses in an attempt to corrupt judicial proceedings. … As the indictment alleges, this enterprise operated in a number of states and has ties to a Mexican cartel that is known for its violence.”

The prosecutors also allege Petties worked directly for Sinaloa cartel boss Edgar Valdez-Villareal, also known as “La Barbie.”

Valdez, from Texas, was captured a year ago near Mexico City with four armed bodyguards who were carrying a grenade launcher.

Mexican authorities say Valdez was one of several leaders in the fractured cartel waging a bloody fight across Mexico for control against each other and against the Mexican government.

The motion was a rare document in the extensive case file that wasn’t sealed when it was filed. The case has been surrounded by extraordinary secrecy because of the alleged violence. Petties’ guilty plea was sealed for longer than a year before it appeared as a notation in the electronic case file.

The same day the government sought an anonymous jury, attorneys Michael Stengel and Lee Gerald filed a motion to seal the prosecutors’ motion, saying it contained “inadmissible personal opinions and inflammatory factual allegations … which, if distributed to the potential venire, will likely make it more difficult to find impartial jurors.”

They also cited a passage in which the prosecutors mention that each defendant faces multiple life sentences in federal prison.

“There is no parole in the federal system,” the prosecution wrote. “Therefore they will serve their sentences until they are carried to their respective resting places.”

That, the prosecution argued, makes it more likely the defendants will try to tamper with the jury.

They cited the murder of Mario Stewart, who was wearing a wire for federal agents and, according to the motion filed this month, was about to testify against an unindicted coconspirator, Tobias Pride, in a trial on a state murder charge for killing yet another person, Antonio Allen. The organization believed Allen was cooperating in the federal investigation.

A seventh person mentioned in the motion, Billy Ray Myles, was allegedly shot and wounded by Clinton Lewis “for betraying the organization.” Myles was then bribed, according to prosecutors, to “lie at a preliminary hearing.”

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