VOL. 127 | NO. 43 | Friday, March 2, 2012
Petties Trial Focuses on 2006 Murder
By Bill Dries
The second witness to testify in the Petties organization drug trial that begins its fifth week Monday, March 5, was Lucy Turner, a police dispatcher from West Memphis, Ark. and the mother of Marcus Turner.
A photo of her son wearing sunglasses at night in the driver’s seat of a shiny red car with fancy tire rims was the second exhibit in the trial.
“That’s my baby,” Turner testified, saying she had talked with him two days before he disappeared in late Sept. 2006 and she found out his body had been found while she was at work.
She looked at the picture projected on the large screen in the courtroom at the Federal Building and didn’t know what kind of rims the car had on it or how he had bought the car.
Like the five other people murdered as part of the story of the large and violent drug organization, Lucy Turner’s son was an adult living his own life mostly on his own terms but still with some help from parents and relatives.
If she didn’t have answers for everything happening in his life, that hasn’t stopped her from taking a seat in a room several floors below the courtroom where she and other relatives of both victims and defendants watch the trial on a remote television connection.
Aside from the participants in the trial, No one other than reporters and attorneys for some of the witnesses are allowed in the courtroom to see the testimony in person and the jury.
What everyone watching, either in person or on a television screen, has seen is a story so big and sprawling some have wondered how they didn’t see it in their daily lives. That’s prompted questions about how authorities fighting the “war on drugs” could miss an organization that large until its leader happened to be arrested in 2002 because of a 911 hang up call that led a patrol officer to find 600 pounds of marijuana in the house with him.
Some of the witnesses have testified about being caught with large amounts of drugs and then being charged for smaller amounts of drugs. Bobby Craft ran to Arkansas after making $4 million from stealing the nearly 200 kilos of cocaine in Memphis that cost Marcus Turner his life. When he was stopped with some of the money in the small town of Marvel, Arkansas, Craft left several hundred thousand dollars behind with authorities there as part of a legal agreement although he faced no criminal charges. He testified that some more of the cash went missing between when he was stopped and when he was released.
The trial itself has included questions about whether some in an organization that managed to intimidate, threaten, murder and bribe its way out of trouble on state charges up to and including murder are still manipulating the criminal justice system.
This week, more than 200 exhibits later, jurors saw a picture of Marcus Turner’s nude body laying in a semi-fetal position by the side of a road on the Olive Branch side of the state line. Part of his face blown away from a gunshot and one of his hands apparently maimed by the same gunshot, scrapes and bruises on other parts of his body.
Turner’s violent death after three days in which he was tortured and beaten at several different locations in Memphis became a critical event in the drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder for hire trial late in the fourth week.
Clinton Lewis is on trial for the murder that other witnesses have said was ordered by drug kingpin Craig Petties after nearly 200 kilos of cocaine was stolen from a drug organization stash house.
Clarence Broady testified that he and Clarence Whitelow held Turner in a van in the backyard of a house in East Memphis. Dana Bradley saw him during that time and saw Lewis and Marcus Brandon then take him from the van shortly before his body was found.
But there were already conflicts at that point in the testimony about the specific fate of a young man all agree probably knew nothing about the theft but whom Petties decided “knew too much” to let go.
Broady admitted killing three other people for the organization. But he adamantly denied ever beating or striking Turner. Other witnesses have said Broady refused an order to kill Turner because he didn’t think Turner knew anything. Bradley testified Turner had been badly beaten when he saw him.
Brandon testified that he saw Clinton Lewis with Turner but that Lewis told him to walk away.
“He told me it ain’t got nothing to do with me,” Brandon testified. “I left and went back to rolling my weed. … I really wasn’t paying no attention to what he was doing. … I didn’t know what was going on.”
When Brandon first saw him, he said Turner showed no signs of being beaten but minutes later he saw a bloodied Turner being led to the van Broady and Whitelow were using.
Brandon and Lewis both owned .45 caliber guns – the same kind of gun allegedly used to kill Turner by the side of Stateline Road at the end of this three day ordeal.
Memphis police on the combined law enforcement task force investigating the Petties organization talked with Tamarcus Cartright about a .45 caliber gun he got in a gun swap with Lewis after the murder. Other witnesses have also testified about the gun swap.
Cartright or someone Cartright knew delivered the gun to the task force at a prearranged time.
Memphis Police Department Detective Mark Jordan testified last week that he and Thurman Richardson, the MPD officer leading the investigation, waited on a bridge in Martin Luther King-Riverside Park in 2008 for a truck that stopped on the bridge and put a green plastic bag on the ground. The truck drove away and Richardson and Jordan picked up the bag with the gun inside.
Meanwhile, Marcus Brandon’s gun had been seized by Memphis police following his arrest shortly after Turner’s murder in a traffic stop that ended with a car crash.
Kevin McKenzie, the Olive Branch police detective leading the investigation of Turner’s murder found out Memphis police had the gun and that Brandon was trying to get it back. Memphis police held the gun and later told McKenzie the gun was tested and was not a match for the cartridge found at the crime scene.
According to McKenzie’s 27 pages of case notes, there are two critical witnesses to Turner’s abduction who have not yet testified at least about Turner's murder – Carlos Whitelow and Vacha Vaughn.
Whitelow began his testimony late Thursday implicating Martin Lewis in the murder of Mario McNeil.
Vaughn said, according to McKenzie’s notes that both Brandon and Lewis were involved in the abduction of Turner after Vaughn unwittingly delivered Turner to them by setting up a meeting with Turner.
Lewis and Brandon drove up to the meeting place at Frank Street and Castex and got out with their guns drawn according to Vaughn.
“Vaughn says they told him to leave and as he is leaving in his vehicle, he sees in his rear view mirror that Turner is made to get in the trunk of his car,” the case notes read. “Brandon is then seen driving Turner’s car” with Lewis following in another car.
Whitelow told McKenzie it was Lewis who turned Turner over to him and Broady and then took him back days later.
“According to Whitelow, Broady was told by Petties to kill Turner but he refused and then Lewis agreed agreed to kill him,” reads a section of McKenzie’s case notes.
Defense attorneys questioned Brandon’s honesty repeatedly during his testimony last week, suggesting authorities made a plea deal with someone who should at least have been charged with Turner’s murder for his participation in the kidnapping.
“You were playing the system, weren’t you?” asked attorney Howard Manis.
“I was working with the government, doing what was right,” Brandon said. “I knew was going to do time.”
Brandon also acknowledged that during an early proffer session to talk with prosecutors about a potential plea deal – one of several proffers before he pleaded guilty -- he repeated some advice his father had given him – “Why do 10 (years), when you can do a friend.”
Brandon was recently released after serving most of a five year 10 month sentence for pleading guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy.
Meanwhile defense attorneys have subpoenaed McKenzie from Honduras where McKenzie has been living since leaving the Olive Branch Police Department to question him about his early suspicions that focused on Brandon as the killer as much as Lewis.
They want to know more about his pursuit of evidence against Brandon and verify the ballistics report that Memphis Police investigators said did not match Brandon’s gun.