Jury frees drug suspect after plea bargain rejected

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 29, 2003

[05/29/03]Jurors freed a cocaine-sale defendant Wednesday who had agreed to a three-year prison term before Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett protested the proposed plea bargain.

“We felt like this was a case that should have been pled,” District Attorney Gil Martin said after the verdict. Martin, now seeking a fourth four-year term, said he and his staff have “been trying cases for a long time” and are “familiar with Warren County juries.”

Despite testimony from the undercover police officer who prosecutors said made the purchase, jurors acquitted Andrey Jerome Moore, 24, 902 Blossom Lane, after a two-day trial.

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He had been arrested by police and accused of selling cocaine at a hotel near a downtown church on April 25, 2002.

In February, Moffett, then chief for 16 months, appeared before Circuit Judge Frank Vollor and objected to the plea deal that was being offered by Martin’s office as too lenient. In exchange for a guilty plea at that time, Moore would have gotten a prison sentence of 10 years with three to serve and seven suspended, and a $1,000 fine.

Moffett was out of town today, said Deputy Police Chief Richard O’Bannon, who declined comment.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Bonner presented the state’s case. He showed the jury a videotape, explaining that it showed Moore and the undercover police officer entering the hotel room where the transaction occurred, and that they could be heard on a recording discussing the prospective deal. Because the hidden camera was fixed and Moore and his alleged customer moved off-camera into a bathroom, no exchange of drugs for money was on videotape, Bonner added.

That was apparently enough for jurors to find reasonable doubt and acquit Moore even though the undercover officer, a police officer from another town the Vicksburg narcotics unit contracted for the operation, can be heard on the tape telling Moore, “That’s not enough for a hundred dollars,” Bonner told the jury.

To that statement, Moore responds, “You look like a man that’s going to spend some money. I’ll treat you right next time,” Bonner said the tape shows.

“We don’t know what happened back there,” Vicksburg attorney Clyde Emil Ellis, who represented Moore, said of the time the agent and defendant were off-camera.

Two other cases in which Moore is accused of selling cocaine, once on Oct. 15, 2001, and again on March 19, 2002, also to cooperating individuals, remain pending against him, Martin said. They were both set for trial this week, but will be delayed until a later term of court with Vollor presiding, he added.

After his acquittal, which came about 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, Moore was released on bonds that had been set in those cases, Bonner said.

A confidential informant, who helped VPD officers arrange the operation and who Bonner said was also present in the hotel room, was not available to testify. She was subpoenaed to testify and sent a bus ticket to here from her last known location, in Minnesota, Bonner said, but she failed to appear.

The informant’s unavailability was one reason Martin cited for his plea-deal offer after Moffett made his objection.

Moffett responded that the undercover officer who made the purchase was available to testify.

The jury “could not have believed the (undercover) officer and found (Moore) not guilty,” Martin said after the trial.

“We need to do what is necessary to keep drug dealers off the street,” Moffett said in February, adding that if cases go to trial and a jury decides the defendants should be set free, he and police could accept that; they just didn’t like plea bargains.

“That’s the system. Let’s use the system,” he said in February.

In the same court session in which Moffett objected to the deal offered Moore, on Feb. 24, he also objected to a deal offered three other defendants who were charged with armed robbery. That case was continued, too, but they later pleaded guilty after Moffett withdrew his objection. Both Moffett and Martin said a lack of communication contributed to the misunderstanding in that case.