Jury Returns Diverse Verdicts in Multi-Defendant Drug Case - The Georgia Virtue

2021-12-23 08:02:35 By : Ms. Jie Gao

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Yet another jury trial that ended with a Not Guilty verdict for a defendant who had been in jail since the commencement of the case highlights a seemingly never ending issue in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit. 

This time, the multi-defendant three day trial concluded in Bulloch County Superior Court after jurors heard allegations that five individuals jointly possessed two pounds of marijuana, a stolen firearm, and drug paraphernalia because they were at the same apartment as those items when it was searched by police.

On September 17, 2020, the Statesboro Police Department arrested 5 individuals after receiving a complaint from ‘an individual who wished to remain anonymous’ with regard to suspected drug activity – ‘a strong odor or marijuana and a lot of heavy foot traffic. A number of officers responded to an apartment in Cambridge – The Palms, at which time they knocked on the door, and were greeted by a number of individuals. Officers reported an ‘overwhelming odor of marijuana’ when the door was opened and one individual, later seen in body cam footage and identified as Legend McClain, said ‘Yeah, I smoke weed.’

Officers had five individuals exit the apartment and sit in the breezeway while they conducted a brief safety sweep of the apartment to ensure no one else was inside. During that sweep, a number of contraband items were seen as well as a small amount of marijuana on the kitchen counter. One of the individuals who opened the door declined to consent to a search, so all parties waited outside until a search warrant was obtained. 

While searching the residence, a significant quantity of marijuana was found in a bedroom, a bedroom closet, a toilet tank, and in a kitchen cabinet. Officers also located a firearm that was determined to be stolen, three digital scales, and a large amount of cash, which, in conjunction with sandwich baggies found in the kitchen, law enforcement suspected was part of a grander scheme related to the distribution of marijuana. 

Antonio McMillan told police when he opened the door that the apartment was his and that he was the only resident.

During an interview, Legend McClain stated that he’d been at the apartment all day and sometimes stays on the couch. He denied knowing anything about the marijuana or firearm, but stated he would “take half of it.” He told police that nothing belonged to Antonio McMillan or Kaneisha Williams.

Kaneisha Williams said she knew two of the other individuals and that it “always smells like marijuana there,” but that she had nothing to do with the marijuana or stolen firearm and she’d been at her cousin’s apartment in the next building and just stopped in to say hello. All she had with her was her phone and her dog.

There is nothing to indicate the other two spoke to police. Statesboro Police Officers subsequently arrested five individuals:

Two months later, all five were indicted by a grand jury as co-defendants on the following five charges: 

Court records show that ADA Barclay Black filed a Motion to revoke the bond of Lee in due to a lack of charge on his ankle monitor in September 2021, however a hearing for the motion was never set and the Order was not signed by a judge.

In October 2021, represented by the Public Defender, Legend McClain entered a GUILTY plea on all five counts. He was sentenced to a total of 5 years in prison followed by 12 years on probation. He received credit for time served dating back to 9/17/20.

During the hearing when McClain entered his guilty plea, his attorney, Trishna Mikell, asked for the sentence of serving five of the ten years in prison followed by an order to serve in in-patient rehab following probation. “He’s asking to take responsibility,” she said.

McClain had another case from 2019 pending in which he was accused of possessing marijuana in excess of 1 ounce, possessing a firearm during commission of a felony, and misdemeanor obstruction. McClain was a passenger in a vehicle with a man known to law enforcement to be a drug trafficker, according to court transcripts. He otherwise had no criminal history, but was on bond for the 2019 case when he was arrested in 2020. McClain entered a guilty plea for the 2019 charges the same day he entered a plea for the 2020 case.

At the time of McClain’s guilty plea, it was expected that the other four defendants would not stand trial because an individual already took responsibility for all five counts alleged, but the District Attorney’s Office placed the case on the trial calendar anyway. Chief ADA Barclay Black argued that all five defendants possessed the marijuana and the stolen firearm because they were all in the same place.

The trial began this past Wednesday in the courtroom of Judge Lovett Bennett, Jr.

ADA Barclay Black asked jurors in his opening statements to expect the evidence to show that two pounds of marijuana was recovered from the apartment during the search by SPD. He asked jurors to keep in mind that sandwich bags in the kitchen, the gun, scales, cash, and concealed marijuana throughout the apartment were ‘indicia of distribution.’ Further, Black stated that marijuana not being out in the open but instead in a bag inside a liquor bottle in the toilet tank and in a shoebox in the closet warranted the ‘Tampering with Evidence’ charge because the illegal contraband was ‘concealed.’

Despite the plea by McClain and the statements made about the illegal items belonging to him, Black said over the course of the three days that four defendants still faced trial because they jointly possessed the marijuana and gun through constructive possession by being present at the same place as the items. He contended that they should have known there was marijuana in the apartment – the toilet tank and in the shoebox in the closet –  as well as in bags belonging to Legend McClain in his bedroom.

Attorneys Malone Hart, Joey Cowart, and Jack Downie took different approaches in their defenses, arguing individually that each of their clients were merely visitors at the apartment and that none of the evidence presented was out in the open. They further suggested that the state had no evidence to link the three to the marijuana, the distribution of it, or the stolen firearm. 

Attorney Katie Williams, representing Antonio McMillian, argued that the majority of the facts in the case were not in dispute and that she agreed with much of what the state suggested. She asked the jury to consider “the rest of the story,” contending that it was Legend McClain who had large amounts of cash on him and it was Legend McClain that stayed in the bedroom where much of the marijuana and the stolen firearm were found. 

Jurors heard from SPD Corporal Kyle Briley, who was among the first on the scene, Sergeant Jake Saxon, who was the supervisor of the Statesboro Impact Team, Detective Ben Purvis, and Crime Scene Analyst Keith Holloway. The state also played body camera footage from Briley, which depicts the defendants when the police knocked on the apartment door. Specifically, the video shows Antonio McMillan telling police he was the resident and ‘the only one’ who lived there. 

One major point of contention during the trial, which prompted removal of the jury for a period of time, was the direct examination of Sgt. Jake Saxon by ADA Black. While flipping through photos taken at the crime scene, Black began a line of questioning regarding a photo of a red bandana found on the floor in the bedroom. Attorney Katie Williams objected and asked that the matter be taken up outside the presence of the jury. 

Once removed, Williams said she objected because the direction was ‘extraordinarily prejudicial’ and irrelevant, inferring that Black was going to suggest that the defendants were members of a gang.

Black said he was merely going to ask ‘what the significance’ of the red bandana was because red is associated with the Bloods and members of the Bloods have been known to sell marijuana. He said he was going to ask Saxon if he had investigated events where members of the Bloods sold marijuana and also wore red.

In a tense back and forth between Black and Katie Williams, she asked Saxon what color his tie was, to which he responded ‘red,’ drawing the ire of Black who was also wearing a red tie.   

Saxon was asked if there was any other evidence of gang activity, to which he said there was not, and he was asked why he took a picture at all. Saxon explained that it is never known for certain what might be needed from a crime scene. He said he saw the bandana and took a picture because it may be significant, but that upon conclusion of the investigation, he found no evidence of criminal street gang activity – which is why none of the defendants were charged with those offenses. 

Judge Bennett ultimately sustained the objection and instructed the state to limit testimony on gangs since the subject was not up for jury consideration.

When the state rested, the defense attorneys made a number of motions for directed verdicts. Hart, Cowart, and Downie asked the court to grant directed verdicts on all counts against their clients because the state offered no evidence tying them to the crimes, citing law that mere presence was not sufficient for conviction, and stating that a ‘rational trier of fact’ could not conclude that Q. Williams, K. Williams, and T. Lee committed any wrongdoing. 

“Smelling marijuana is a far cry from distributing it,” attorney Joey Cowart said. Similarly, Jack Downie said the court ‘had a duty’ to acquit the defendants and judicial notice should be taken of the guilty plea by Legend McClain. Malone Hart argued that “spatial proximity” and mere presence of being in McMillan’s apartment were not enough for his client to go any further. 

Katie Williams agreed, but argued specifically to Count 2- Theft by Receiving, saying the state failed to meet the elements outlined in the statute.

But ADA Black said none of the arguments by the defense attorneys met the standard for a directed verdict and that if ‘mere presence’ wasn’t allowed to be considered, there would ‘always’ be a directed verdict in these types of cases.

Judge Bennett ultimately granted the Motion for a Directed Verdict as it pertained to Count 2 – Theft by Receiving for each of the four defendants, but denied the motion on the remaining charges. The trial subsequently proceeded. 

Legend McClain Takes the Stand

Legend McClain appeared in jail stripes and shackles on Friday morning after Katie Williams called him to the stand. She asked him about his indictment and sentence following his guilty plea, but was interrupted by an objection by Black, who did not want the sentence presented to the jury. He claimed the evidence of a sentence was ‘impermissible General Bad Character evidence’ and was not proper.

Williams, however, argued that it was imperative that McClain’s sentence be entered into evidence because the ‘crux of the state’s case’ was that they charged everyone with possessing certain items and Legend McClain acknowledged that he possessed those items. As she spoke, McClain nodded in agreement from the witness stand. 

Judge Bennett overruled Black’s objection, saying Bad Character evidence prohibitions are related to defendants, not witnesses, and that Williams sought the proper way to have the conviction admitted into evidence. 

After McClain acknowledged that he was, indeed, sentenced, Williams had no further questions and Blacked opted not to cross examine him.

Ultimately, none of the defendants took the stand and with the exception of one witness to corroborate the statement to police by KaNeisha Williams that she had only stopped by while visiting her cousin, not other evidence was presented by the defense.

Never Named But Faced Trial Anyway

Over the course of the three day trial, Black never mentioned the names of QuShaun Williams, KeNeisha Williams, or Keoyante Lee other than when he read the indictment at the opening of the case. Nevertheless, Black said in his closing statement that ‘the other three’ were charged and faced trial because if the seats were empty, Antonio McMillian would blame them for the illegal items.

The jury ultimately deliberated for 55 minutes, having gone into the room at 5:10 p.m. and returning the verdict at 6:05 p.m. Jurors unanimously found Qu’Shaun Williams, Ka-Neisha Williams, and Keontaye Lee NOT GUILTY on all counts.

Antonio McMillian was found GUILTY on the Possession with Intent to Distribute charge and the Possession of Drug Objects charge while the jury returned a NOT GUILTY verdict on the Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony count. They also returned a GUILTY verdict on a lesser included Tampering with Evidence charge.

Antonio McMillian will be sentenced at a later date following a sentencing hearing.

Qu’Shaun Williams was discharged after 449 days in the Bulloch County Jail. The NOT GUILTY parties spent a collective 513 behind bars as a result of this case.

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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