Jul 26, 2003
Two former law-enforcement officers from Southside Virginia should get a new trial on drug-related charges, the federal appeals court in Richmond ruled yesterday.
Marshall L. King, a former state trooper in Brunswick County, and Bruno L. Crutchfield, the former police chief in the small town of Brodnax, were convicted of drug conspiracy by a federal jury in Richmond in November 2000.
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne sent them to prison. But just over a year ago, Payne set aside the verdicts after hearing evidence of perjured testimony from key witnesses. He ordered a new trial for King and Crutchfield. The U.S. attorney's office here appealed Payne's ruling.
Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Payne was right. Prosecutors could continue the appeal or proceed to try the defendants again in U.S. District Court.
"I hope the government won't seek to retry the case," said Matthew P. Geary, King's lawyer. "I hope the government won't drag this out any further."
Geary said the appeals-court panel gave "appropriate deference" to the decision by Payne, the trial judge who, almost two years later, heard from witnesses who said some testimony had been lies.
King and Crutchfield were charged in 2000 with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, failing as police officers to report a felony and multiple other offenses sup- porting the conspiracy charge.
The government case alleged that for years, the two had provided protection for a drug-dealing operation run by Maurice Lewis, King's nephew. It also alleged that they had traded drugs to crack-addicted women in exchange for sex, taken money and drugs from dealers and warned dealers about police roadblocks and investigations.
Witnesses at trial were mainly people involved in drug trafficking, many of them addicts. One woman whose memory had been so affected by drug abuse could not remember when the events she testified about took place. Payne ordered the jury to disregard what she said.
The jury convicted King and Crutchfield of the drug-conspiracy charge and King of failing to report a felony. It acquitted them of the other allegations supporting the conspiracy, apparently believing that at least some were valid, but jurors were unable to agree unanimously.
In April 2001, Payne sentenced King to 15 years and eight months in prison. Crutchfield got 12 years and seven months.
A year later, Geary went to court seeking a new trial based on evidence that Lewis and another key witness, Detrone Williams, had perjured themselves and that Lewis, while in jail, had recruited other prisoners to falsely testify against the two police officers.
The draw for the inmates was the possibility of sentence reductions because they cooperated with prosecutors. One inmate testified that Lewis had urged him to "jump on the bandwagon." Others said Lewis had coached some of the witnesses in what to say against King and Crutchfield.
In his ruling, Payne said he was satisfied that sufficient testimony had been lies to warrant a new trial. He said that in all his experience as a lawyer, he could recall no verdict "in which I have less confidence."
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