A contract killer for the Craig Petties drug organization who never carried out his job got a 12-year, five-month prison sentence Thursday, March 21, from U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays.
Orlando Mays was supposed to kill Vacha Vaughn in 2007 when Petties and others in the organization suspected Vaughn was cooperating with federal authorities.
Orlando Mays letter to the court
Two months after Vaughn was supposed to be killed but wasn’t, Mays and Vaughn were both indicted in the latest of what would be a series of eight sets of indictments or charges in the case. The case became the largest drug case ever tried in the federal court for the Western District of Tennessee.
Four months after the hit that never happened, Mays had pleaded guilty, but documents detailing the guilty plea and his cooperation were sealed from public view in the electronic case file.
Vaughn pleaded guilty to three conspiracy counts specifically involving the attempted murder of Vaughn and another man, and a fourth count involving a firearms charge.
Some details of his cooperation in the investigation of the largest drug case ever brought in Memphis federal court remained under wraps. Part of his sentencing hearing Thursday was closed to the public.
The same was true of Vaughn’s sentencing hearing in February when he was sentenced to 36 years and six months in prison.
Vaughn testified as a defense witness in the 2012 trials of Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis on racketeering, drug conspiracy and murder-for-hire charges. They were the only two members of the organization charged who went to trial and both were convicted and are awaiting sentencing.
Mays did not testify in the trial for either side.
Mays arrived in Memphis from Oakland, Calif., in 2005, three years after Petties had fled to Mexico, where he ran the organization in exile and worked directly with part of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel until his capture in January 2008.
In 2005, the leadership of the organization in Memphis was unraveling and becoming more violent as Petties and his top tier of lieutenants began to suspect some within the organization of cooperating with law enforcement.
Others in the top ranks testified that Petties also began to advocate from Mexico more violent means to deal with those cooperating, including using teams of hit men from Mexico.
But the local leadership continued to use a team of local hit men who committed all six murders alleged in the federal court case. Mays was one of those enlisted to carry out specific murders. In his case it was the murder of Vaughn, who had already been critically wounded three years earlier by a rival drug dealer who dressed up like a police officer, took Vaughn’s drugs and then shot Vaughn.
The reaction was the 2004 murder of Latrell Small, whom the organization suspected of the robbery and shooting, as well as Kalonji Griffin by Clarence Broady.
“I have come to realize just how horrific and life shattering these actions have been,” Mays wrote of his own involvement, in a letter to the court seeking a reduced sentence. “I further have become aware of how split second spur of the moment decisions can change a life forever, not just one life, but the lives of many.”
Mays’ limited role was the argument his attorney, Jerry Easter, used in making the case for a much lighter sentence than Vaughn got.
“When I came here, my addiction came also,” Mays wrote. “Having no insurance and no local doctors, I began to look for and purchase these pain medicines off the street. And that is how I once again became involved in illicit street activities.”
Addicted to Lortab and cough syrup, according to excerpts in court filings form his pre sentencing report, Mays had a lingering leg injury that he attributed generally to his life on the streets. He has numerous pins and rods in his left femur and his left arm.
The day after he was arrested in the case, Mays was scheduled to have surgery for a “non-union of the mid shaft of the femur and to replace a bent nail and a possible iliac crest bone graft,” according to the court filing.
“By age 11, I was out on my own in the streets. In my area it was literally survival of the fittest,” Mays wrote of his childhood in Oakland. And to survive, he said he began selling drugs.
“It was what everyone around me did,” he added. “It was even the example that had been set by my own father.” Mays father was in prison for most his adult life and remained in prison as Mays wrote the judge about his own sentencing.
Mays made it to the 11th grade in high school before dropping out.
“In my world, 11th grade was an accomplishment,” he wrote. “By then my life was totally immersed in street life.”