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VOL. 127 | NO. 55 | Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Deliberations to Begin in Petties Org Case

By Bill Dries

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Seven weeks ago jury selection began in the largest drug case ever brought in Memphis federal court.

More than 350 exhibits, 70 witnesses and 130 sidebars or bench conferences later, the jury is about to begin deliberations in the trial of Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis, two members of the drug organization headed and built by Craig Petties.

Petties pleaded guilty in 2009 to numerous charges in the case.

The jury will likely begin deliberations late Tuesday, March 20.

Martin Lewis faces five counts or charges: racketeering conspiracy, violent crime in the aid of racketeering for the murder of Mario McNeil, murder conspiracy for the same murder, money laundering for buying a truck with the money he allegedly got for killing McNeil and a forfeiture count that would seize either money or property he owns up to $5 million if he is convicted on other counts.

Clinton Lewis faces eight counts: racketeering conspiracy, three counts of violent crime in the aid of racketeering for the murder of Mario McNeil, the kidnapping and murder of Marcus Turner, murder conspiracy for murder of McNeil, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to commit money laundering and a forfeiture count to seize money or property up to $5 million in value.

Closing statements from the prosecution and defense should take most of the morning in Memphis Federal Court to be followed by more than an hour of instructions on the law from U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays.

Mays and the attorneys for both sides spent Monday, March 19, readying the instructions the jury is to get as well as dealing with lingering motions, including one for a mistrial. Mays denied a second motion for a mistrial last week that stopped the trial for several days between the time the prosecution rested and the defense began presenting its case.

The murders, six in all in the indictment, make this drug case different from other federal cases in Memphis. The docket for the Western District of Tennessee has seen cases alleging complex conspiracies to distribute large amounts of drugs worth millions of dollars before. But none of those allegations came close to the amount of drugs, the amount of money or the level of violence alleged in the Petties drug organization case.

The millions of dollars that some in the organization testified they made individually in a week’s time is the total that some of the more complex but smaller drug conspiracy cases have alleged.

Bobby Craft, who stole nearly 200 kilograms of cocaine from a Petties organization stash house, testified he made more than $4 million when he resold the stolen cocaine at a price lower than the market value.

The indictment puts the life of the Petties organization from 1995 to 2008, much longer than the time span alleged in most federal drug cases.

The jury heard not only about the structure of the organization and its ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico. They heard from those in the organization who committed four of the other murders and the planning that went into the murders. They also heard from others involved in the planning and who helped the killers – and, in a few cases, refused to participate.

They also heard from others in the organization who testified about Martin Lewis’ time as an outsider to the organization that changed dramatically after Mario McNeil was gunned down at a restaurant on Kirby Parkway.

McNeil was killed because he allegedly threatened Petties’ mother.

And they heard of Clinton Lewis’ growing importance in the Memphis organization – an organization he joined soon after he was released from prison on a 1993 murder conviction. By 2007, according to the testimony, he had more responsibility for carrying out Petties’ orders for both drug distribution and murders of those who crossed the organization either by cooperating with authorities or stealing from the organization.

That includes the 2006 abduction, torture and murder of Marcus Turner as the organization raced to find Craft and the cocaine he stole.

Orlando Pride, whose time on the witness stand – nearly two days – was the longest of any witness, gave the jury its first idea of the scope of the drug organization in the beginning and its evolution to Petties running it from Mexico from 2002 to his capture in Mexico in 2008.

In the beginning the group was called the Dison Street Posse, Pride testified. As the group took over from street dealers it had once worked for running rocks of crack cocaine to waiting cars, there was no name. It was simply the organization run by Petties. And it was his name that carried authority on the street.

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