Heroin dealer gets 10 years

James Starks III

FRONT ROYAL – A man has pleaded guilty in Warren County Circuit Court to two charges of selling heroin, his third set of distribution offenses.

James Arthur Starks III, 32, was sentenced to serve 10 years in jail after submitting a plea of guilt in exchange for reduced charges.

The accusations against Starks stem from two heroin sales to a confidential informant on Dec. 23, 2015, and Dec. 29, 2015, according to a summary of the evidence from Warren County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Fleming.

Fleming said on both occasions that officers with the Virginia State Police dispatched a confidential informant, equipped with an audio recording device and $150, into a residence at 218 E. 6th St. to purchase heroin.

Both substances were then sent to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, which confirmed the substances were in fact heroin, Fleming said.

Starks’s attorney, John Bell, did not object to the summary of the evidence. However, he said while the audio confirms an interaction between Starks and the confidential informant occurred, it is not clear that a drug transaction took place, and that the commonwealth would rely heavily on the testimony of the informant.

Bell said if this were Starks’s first set of distribution charges, he would advocate his client to go forward with a trial. However, given the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for each distribution charge as a third offense, the stakes were too high.

“Any one of these cases would be triable,” he said. “If they were first offense violations, we’d take them to trial.”

Circuit Judge Clifford Athey Jr. accepted the plea deal, which reduced the charges from third offense violations to second offense violations. Thus, Starks will spend 10 years in jail for the two charges, followed by two years of supervised probation. He will also have to pay $300 in restitution.

In an interview after the trial, Fleming agreed with Bell that the recordings do not definitively show a drug transaction took place. However, he said drug dealers are not typically verbally explicit when conducting a deal.

He said a recording usually augments the testimony of a confidential informant by establishing that the two were together at the time and place of the alleged crime, but the testimony of the informant is more critical than the recording.

The judge then remanded Starks, already clad in a gray and white Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail jumpsuit, back into the custody of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com