CLARKSBURG — A federal judge heard testimony and arguments for about two hours Friday in a defense procedural bid to derail the government’s case against two defendants in a drug distribution/distribution with death indictment.
At issue is whether federal prosecutors waited too long to put on trial Terrick Robinson, 34, and Seddrick Damond Banks, 26, both of Cartersville, Georgia. The men are set to go to trial next month in Clarksburg, with U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Kleeh presiding.
Robinson is facing one count alleging he gave Courtney Nicole DuBois, 20, of Fairmont, the fentanyl that an autopsy alleges caused her death. He’s also facing five other drug counts and two gun counts. Banks is facing four drug counts, a gun count and a count alleging he was an accessory after the fact to distribution of fentanyl resulting in serious injury or death. Banks and Robinson could face anywhere from 20 years in prison all the way up to life if convicted of some or all of the counts.
Defense attorneys Ed Rollo and Jim Zimarowski (for Robinson) and Belinda Haynie (for Banks) argue that the federal 70-day speedy trial clock/Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial should have been in play in 2018 for both Robinson and Banks.
During a Sept. 4, 2018, raid of a motel room in White Hall focused on Robinson, Banks was found in the room and was taken into custody on a Georgia fugitive warrant. Robinson, meanwhile, was taken into custody elsewhere in Marion County about the same time, and detained on a federal drug conspiracy criminal complaint.
Banks was extradited back to Georgia around Sept. 30, 2018, and remained there until this November, when he was returned to West Virginia to face federal prosecution. Meanwhile, Banks and Robinson were indicted in early October 2018 on drug conspiracy allegations, and in March, the government superseded that indictment to add the allegations involving Dubois’ death, allegedly Aug. 9, 2018, in Jane Lew, and the disposal of her body, which was found dismembered later in August 2018, in a Georgia landfill.
The trial schedule wasn’t had been in limbo until the initial appearance of Banks — the final defendant in the case — this November.
The defense attorneys are trying to argue that either the government advanced its case while Banks was in Georgia resolving two of three cases against him, and awaiting prosecution on a third.
But Kleeh appeared ready to side with Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Cook, who argued that law enforcement had to arrest Banks on Sept. 4, 2018, on the Georgia fugitive warrant, and at that point, the federal case became second in line to the prosecution activities in Georgia.
There was nothing nefarious about that decision, she added, and also contended the lead investigator, the 13-year commander of the Greater Harrison Drug & Violent Crimes Task Force, had most of the evidence in the case in hand by the Sept. 4, 2018, arrest.
Kleeh won’t rule until a final pretrial conference next week. In the meantime, the attorneys can file supplemental briefs. The defense lawyers also can check the approximately 40,000 pages of discovery documents to see if the cases of Robinson and/or Banks suffered a debilitating blow due to the passage of time, such as the death of a witness.
Kleeh also is expected to rule on a suppression motion Tuesday, although that appears even more likely to go in favor of the government.
Two defendants, William Gregory Chappell, 32, and Joel Macario Jimenez, 37, also of Cartersville, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing by U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Kleeh. Each man admitted being part of a crystal meth distribution conspiracy that involved a pipeline from Georgia to West Virginia. Chappell also entered a plea to a gun charge. Each could face 20 or more years in prison.
The Greater Harrison Drug & Violent Crimes Task Force commander, a law enforcement officer for 29 years, alleges the defendants established a pipeline from Georgia to West Virginia to bring in large quantities of drugs. That included a pound of meth sold at the White Hall motel on Sept. 4, 2018, the commander alleged.
Attorney Frank Walker also represents Banks, but wasn’t present for Friday’s hearing.