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VOL. 127 | NO. 53 | Friday, March 16, 2012

Testimony Ends in Fed Drug Trial

By Bill Dries

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After five weeks of testimony, the last witness testified Wednesday, March 14, in the Petties drug organization trial in Memphis federal court.

He was Vacha Vaughn, a high-level member of the organization who was shot in a 2004 robbery by men dressed as police officers. Three years later, he was a target of the organization itself because he was believed to be cooperating with authorities.

Vaughn’s wounding in the 2004 robbery led to the retaliation murders of Latrell Small and Kalonji Griffin ordered by drug kingpin Craig Petties from exile in Mexico. Small was feuding with Petties over a woman, according to other members of the organization who testified for the government. He and Griffin also robbed drug dealers, those same witnesses testified.

Clarence Broady, who also robbed drug dealers before becoming a hit man for Petties, testified that he killed both of them as retaliation for Vaughn’s wounding.

The jury heard none of the broader details about Vaughn’s changing status in the organization as the trial closed with a laser-like focus on the two defendants – Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis.

Both are accused of drug conspiracy, racketeering and other murders for hire.

Vaughn was a witness for the defense, and he brought the testimony to a close by pointing the finger at Lewis for the 2006 kidnapping, torture and murder of Marcus Turner.

Defense attorney Marty McAfee, representing Martin Lewis, got Vaughn to say that he saw Marcus Brandon and Terry Antonio Peete abduct Turner. Brandon and Peete were two key witnesses against Martin Lewis and the defense’s brief case was to point to them as uncharged and more likely suspects in several of the murders.

After five weeks of testimony, the last witness has testified in the Petties drug organization trial in Memphis federal court.

“There is no question in your mind,” McAfee began two questions about Brandon and Peete as the men Lewis saw abduct Turner after Vaughn arranged for Turner to meet him on a dead-end street in South Memphis.

Vaughn said he didn’t know it would turn into a kidnapping.

“All I seen was guns and I got out of there,” he testified.

He said he saw in his rear-view mirror Brandon forcing Turner into the trunk of Brandon’s car.

After McAfee’s questions, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly asked Vaughn if he had any doubt that Clinton Lewis was also there with a gun drawn on Turner.

“No doubt, sir,” Vaughn answered.

Defense attorney Derek Drennan earlier questioned Memphis Police homicide detective Anthony Mullins about a video surveillance recording at the Monticello Apartments in March 2006.

The recording showed no car idling in the apartment complex’s driveway at the time that Mario McNeil was shot in a restaurant across Kirby Parkway from the driveway. Carlos Whitelow, a government witness, testified earlier that he parked in the driveway at the time of the shooting as Martin Lewis allegedly went into the business and shot McNeil. Whitelow said he saw people running from the restaurant seconds later.

Peete drove Lewis to the restaurant.

Mullins also acknowledged that the time and date stamp on the recording could have been wrong.

Meanwhile, TeMarcus Cartwright, one half of a key gun swap after Turner’s murder, testified for the defense that he had always told investigators the gun swap was with Marcus Brandon and not Clinton Lewis – contradicting testimony about the event from Brandon as well as a Memphis Police detective.

Detective Mark Jordan testified that Cartwright led investigators in 2008 to a gun drop in Martin Luther King-Riverside Park in which the gun was left on a bridge as police watched. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation matched the gun with a bullet taken from Turner’s body and a shell casing found near his body.

Prosecutors contend Cartwright changed his story several times after originally saying the gun belonged to Clinton Lewis. Cartwright’s cousin is married to Clinton Lewis.

The trial breaks for the rest of the week as Judge Hardy Mays is out of town. He and attorneys on both sides will take up pending motions Monday, March 19, as well as a draft of instructions to the jury without the panel’s presence.

When the jury returns Tuesday, March 20, they will hear closing statements from the attorneys as the first order of business and could begin deliberations by the end of the day.

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