The case against Lawrence E. Stewart, convicted of the class A felony of distribution of a controlled substance near public housing or other governmental assisted housing Wednesday, Aug. 13, might not have been brought at all, had it not been for the assistance of a confidential informant.
The informant, who had previously cooperated with the Missouri drug task force in other cases, was ticketed in the late summer of 2007 for several traffic violations including speeding and driving while revoked.
A search of the informant's vehicle after the traffic stop also uncovered marijuana and drug paraphernalia, leaving the informant in some very deep trouble.
Eventually, the informant approached members of local law enforcement with a proposal.
In exchange for an unspecified amount of relief on the charges against the informant, the informant would assist in the apprehension of a drug seller.
Accordingly, on two occasions in September 2007, with the assistance of the informant, Saline County Sheriff's Department deputies observed two separate drug buys between the informant and Stewart.
The drug transactions took place at or near public housing facilities in Marshall.
Missouri provides specific penalties for distribution of drugs on the "controlled substances" list, which includes marijuana, cocaine and other drugs, in Missouri Statute 195.211 -- "Any person who violates or attempts to violate this section with respect to any controlled substance except five grams or less of marijuana is guilty of a class B felony."
Conviction of a class B felony carries a minimum penalty of five years and a maximum of 15.
In Stewart's case, however, a different statute comes into play -- Missouri Revised Statute 195.218 provides that "A person commits the offense of distribution of a controlled substance near public housing or other governmental assisted housing if he violates section 195.211 by unlawfully distributing or delivering any controlled substance to a person in or on, or within one thousand feet of the real property comprising public housing or other governmental assisted housing."
Selling the drugs within 1,000 feet of public housing raises the crime to a class A felony, escalating the minimum penalty to 10 years and the maximum to 30 years.
At several points in the trial, Stewart's attorney, Rebecca M. Hains of Warsaw, questioned the prosecutor's claim that Stewart knew his residence was located within public housing, displaying photographs of the site to the jury that didn't show any signage indicating it was public housing. In her summation, Hains used the same photos, considerably enlarged, and said, "I'm still wracking my brain to figure out if Stewart knew it was public housing," and told jurors to "see if you can come up with any evidence he knew he was on public property."
The six-man, six-woman jury obviously didn't buy that argument, and brought back the guilty verdict in just under 20 minutes.
Contact Kathy Fairchild at firstname.lastname@example.org