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VOL. 127 | NO. 29 | Monday, February 13, 2012

Testimony to Begin in Fed Drug Case

By Bill Dries

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The first witnesses could testify Monday, Feb. 13, in the federal drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder-for-hire trial of Martin Lewis and Clinton Lewis.

The testimony will follow opening statements Monday in the trial in Memphis federal court.

The jury of 12 with six alternates in the 10-year-old drug case that is the largest ever brought in Memphis federal court was seated Thursday.

The Lewises are accused of being hit men for the drug organization headed by Craig Petties. They are the last of a rotating group of nine defendants charged in a series of seven sets of indictments that started in 2002 with the indictment of Petties for being in a house in the Kansas-Riverview community with 600 pounds of marijuana. The case grew to include the racketeering and murder-for-hire charges and named more than 40 people including the nine charged in an outline of a drug organization that is the largest documented in a case in Memphis federal court.

The other defendants have pleaded guilty.

Petties fled to Mexico shortly after the 2002 indictment and was captured there in 2008.

Petties, who pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder-for-hire charges in secret proceedings in 2009, was not on a list of 162 possible witnesses Judge Hardy Mays read during jury selection.

Mays is allowing no laptops, netbooks, iPhones or similar electronic devices that could be used for real-time coverage of the witnesses in the courtroom.

He’s also banned the jury from having the devices in the courtroom, but for a different reason.

“You can’t multitask,” he told them Thursday. “You’ve got to be totally focused on what’s happening.”

Extra security precautions are being used for the trial.

The jurors are only being referred to by numbers assigned to them and Mays told them to not use their names.

Now that the jury has been picked, they will get to federal court after being picked up at an undisclosed location. The jury will not be sequestered, but jurors will not take a lunch break outside the building. They will eat breakfast and lunch at the federal building under guard.

Mays also continued to emphasize the jurors cannot talk about a case that has already garnered a lot of attention.

“You cannot talk about this case to anyone at any time,” he said. “Loose lips sink ships and I want to keep this ship floating for a month.”

The warnings came at the end of four days of jury selection that featured numerous repetitions of the same questions for jurors and numerous sidebar conferences to give potential jurors some privacy as Mays and the attorneys delved into their private lives.

The start of testimony Monday should be a dramatic difference as the jury is told the story of the violent drug organization built in Memphis that covered several states and worked directly with the violent Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico.

Some of the names on the possible witness list were those who worked closely with Petties in leading the drug organization. The jury is expected to hear about other murders by other members of the organization including the fatal shooting of Mario Stewart.

Among the items of evidence are two recordings. The first was made by Stewart, who was working as an informant for investigators. He recorded Tobias Pride talking about yet another murder and how leaders of the drug ring suspected Stewart was cooperating. The second recording is a 911 call by Stewart after he had been shot and mortally wounded at his home.

Stewart’s story is expected to be featured to show the drug organization’s focus on killing anyone within it suspected of cooperating with law enforcement.

Stewart became an informant after another informant, Antonio Allen, was murdered in April 2002. Allen had recorded some conversations, according to the indictment. Stewart picked up where Allen left off about a month later and allegedly recorded Pride talking about Allen’s murder.

The jury will also hear lots of details about the murders Clinton and Martin Lewis are accused of.

Several investigators with the Olive Branch Police Department were on the witness list. The body of Marcus Turner was found in September 2006 in a field in Olive Branch after Turner was kidnapped and tortured. Clinton Lewis allegedly helped in the kidnapping of Turner, according to the indictment, and turned him over to two others in the organization who tortured him as they tried to locate another person suspected of stealing cocaine.

Martin Lewis is accused of the murder of Mario McNeal in 2007. McNeal was killed because he was considered “a threat” to the organization, according to the indictment.

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