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Posted November 1, 2012 | 1 Comment
Jury deliberates sprawling drug conspiracy
Five accused of participating in city crack ring
By Joe Beck
Jury deliberations began Thursday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg after an eight-day trial of five defendants accused of participating in a crack cocaine ring and selling the drug throughout Winchester.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Grayson Hoffman told the jurors during closing arguments that the government's evidence showed the defendants were involved in the sale and distribution of at least 2,700 grams of cocaine throughout Winchester from May 2009 to February 2012.
The defendants, Nikki Williams, Alphonso Britton, Antonio Williams, Demario Coffie and Santonio Minus, faced a total of 27 counts. Grayson described them as operating "an efficient, high volume" business that conducted as many as 100 sales a day, many of them involving small quantities of less than a gram.
"They worked together as a team to distribute thousands and thousands of grams of crack cocaine on the streets of Winchester, Va.," Grayson said, adding that the true amount sold was probably much more than the 2,700 grams cited.
Defense attorneys, all from Harrisonburg, fought back against the prosecution by attacking the credibility and character of government witnesses, three of whom are co-defendants, but were not on trial after entering guilty pleas months ago. Grayson estimated that more than 50 witnesses testified, most of them against the defendants.
Roland Santos, who represented Coffie, said law enforcement agents failed to muster enough tangible evidence after 12 to 14 months of investigation.
"In order to supplement that, the call went out to every bad person in Winchester to testify," Santos said.
Kathleen Witt, the attorney for Santonio Minus, equally denounced the government's evidence as "trash."
"You can make it look all glittery, but it still stinks if it's trash. Mr. Hoffman tried to wrap up trash today," Witt said.
Court documents filed by prosecutors say the ring was "supervised and guided" by Nikki Williams, who is the mother of Antonio Williams. Grayson said each of the defendants had clearly defined roles. Nikki Williams oversaw records of drug sales and told others what to do with money from drug sales, according to court documents.
Grayson told the jurors that Britton, described in court documents as Williams's boyfriend, had overall responsibility for the crack supply and sold it to Minus, Coffie and Antonio Williams for resale to others.
Sales were conducted out of several residences, Grayson said. He repeatedly referred to Britton, who made threats and carried a gun on occasion, according to witnesses who testified.
Grayson reminded the jurors of distraught testimony from Sycarra Chinn, a co-defendant, who pleaded guilty in late June to participating in a drug-dealing conspiracy and selling crack cocaine. He described Chinn as shaking visibly from fear while on the witness stand.
"She was petrified here in the face of those five defendants," Grayson said.
Grayson also cited audio and video recordings made during drug buys by informants under the supervision of law enforcement agents as key pieces of evidence to be considered against the defendants. He also noted thousands of dollars in cash found in a variety of places, including $1,200 in Nikki Williams's purse, $6,000 in Antonio Williams's pockets and $6,300 on Britton.
Nikki Williams's attorney, John Hart Jr., contended the prosecution failed to prove that the purse belonged to Williams. The rest of the case against her also fell short of proving her guilt, he said.
"No one can dispute that the least amount of evidence is against Nikki Williams compared to the other defendants," Hart said.
Aaron Cook, representing Antonio Williams, denounced the government's witnesses as a parade of felons and addicts "even less trustworthy than the confidential informants being monitored by the police."
"The question you should be asking is can you trust these people beyond a reasonable doubt to be telling the truth," Cook told the jurors.
Britton's attorney, Wayne Harding, urged the jurors to ask themselves if a woman addict who testified was the sort of person they would want to "to pack your parachute."
"The question answers itself," Harding said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org