Front Royal man found guilty of heroin distribution

FRONT ROYAL — A local man was found guilty of heroin distribution after a Monday morning bench trial before Circuit Judge James Lang.

James Anthony Rawlings, 22, sold heroin to a confidential informant on Dec. 18, 2015 for $150, the informant and officers in the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force at the time of the transaction testified during the trial. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Fleming also presented an audio recording of the transaction as evidence of the crime.

In the nearly eight-minute long recording, the informant can be heard speaking with the investigators about the buttons on the hidden recording device before walking down the street to meet with Rawlings at a Front Royal residence. There is a very brief discussion about heroin heard on the recording, and the informant asks Rawlings if he has any Suboxone–a narcotic pain-reliever often used as a heroin substitute–to which Rawlings is heard replying, “No, not yet.”

The informant also confirmed the price on the tape, and quickly walked back to the investigators after the transaction was complete. The informant was searched before he left the investigators and once he returned to ensure that the transaction was properly controlled by law enforcement.

Martin Scheller, Rawlings’ attorney, argued that the informant’s testimony should be struck from the record, as there were inconsistencies in the way the informant explained the transaction. Scheller also argued that the informant — who testified that he has been involved in a number of drug distribution charges to “work off” the larceny charges he was facing — saw Rawlings as an “easy target” because of Rawlings’ limited mental abilities that stem from a brain injury he suffered as a child.

Fleming noted in his closing argument that even though Rawlings was examined and found to have limited mental abilities, he was still declared competent to stand trial.

Rawlings also testified that the informant was constantly asking him about acquiring Suboxone, and that he denied the informant’s requests every time. He said that his response on the tape was to get the informant to stop asking about it.

Lang determined that the evidence presented was sufficient to convict Rawlings of heroin distribution, and found him guilty of the crime. A pre-sentencing investigation was ordered, and a sentencing hearing has been set for Oct. 30 in Warren County Circuit Court.

Rawlings is also facing a distribution of imitation heroin charge from an alleged incident also in December 2015. A hearing has been set for Sept. 11 in Warren County Circuit Court for entering a plea in light of the result of Monday’s trial, or for setting a trial date.