A jury, following a day long trial Tuesday, August 11 in DeKalb County Criminal Court, returned a split decision in a drug case against a local man indicted in an undercover investigation by the Sheriff's Department in November 2013.
63 year old Charles Ronnie Evans of Students Home Road, Smithville was found not guilty in a unanimous verdict by the jury on one count of sale and delivery of a schedule II drug (Roxycodone). But the jury, made up of 10 women and 2 men, could not reach a unanimous decision on another count of sale and delivery of a schedule II drug (Dilaudid). The vote was 10 in favor of acquittal with 2 opting for a lesser included offense. As a result, Judge David Patterson declared a mistrial in the Dilaudid case. The District Attorney General's staff must now decide whether to seek a new trial on the Dilaudid charges. An announcement is expected on October 2, the next negotiation deadline date. Evans will remain on bond pending that decision.
Attorney's Jon Slager and Vester Parsley represented Evans during the trial Tuesday, which was covered exclusively by WJLE.
Evans was one of sixty four persons named in sealed indictments by the DeKalb County Grand Jury on Monday, January 13, 2014 after a three month undercover drug investigation by the Sheriff's Department. Evans, an employee in the tire shop at DeKalb Farmers Coop, was accused of selling to a confidential informant one Roxycodone pill on November 8, 2013 and one K4 Dilaudid pill five days later on November 13, 2013. The alleged transactions occurred while Evans was at work in the tire shop. The informant, Chris Hale, was contracted by the sheriff's department to make undercover drug buys during the investigation and was paid for his services from the drug fund. Hale testified that he bought a pill from Evans on both occasions.
But Evans, who has never before been in trouble with the law, took the witness stand in his own defense Tuesday to deny the allegations and to assert that he was the victim of a setup between Hale and a former Coop employee, Chris Pack. According to Evans, Pack had been suspected of stealing tires from the shop and he (Evans) reported that to management. A defense theory was that a plan may have been hatched between Pack and Hale to retaliate against Evans since it was Pack who had put Hale onto Evans. However, Pack himself was indicted in the same undercover investigation for two counts of sale and delivery of a schedule II drug (Roxycodone). Pack was later fired from the Coop.
Hale's credibility was also called into question by attorneys Slager and Parsley since Hale is a convicted felon, having served prison time for multiple thefts and burglaries. Hale admitted to committing the crimes to obtain money to support his drug addiction but claims he has kicked the habit now that he is out of prison after undergoing rehab programs while doing his time.
Hale testified that he was working at a local recycling business when he was contacted by former sheriff's department detective Houston Cantrell about becoming a confidential informant. Hale said he agreed to do it to help fight the drug problem. But attorneys for Evans claim that Hale's motive was more for monetary than moral reasons in that he was being paid up to $100 for every schedule II pill he bought during the investigation and that over a three month period, he earned as much as $10,000 working undercover. It was also during this time that Hale quit his job at the recycling business.
On the dates Evans is alleged to have sold the pills, drug detective Jeremy Taylor and former detective Cantrell testified that they met Hale at a prearranged secure location about a mile from DeKalb Farmers Coop. At the secure location, Hale was made to strip down to his boxer shorts. Both Hale and his car were searched for contraband and he was wired with an audio recording device but no body camera. After being given money to make the drug buys, Hale got in his vehicle and drove to the Coop. Taylor and Cantrell then set up video surveillance near the Coop and monitored audio communication from the wire planted on Hale.
The video tape recording on November 8, 2013, as shown to the jury, revealed Hale driving up to the Coop tire shop. He got out of the car and went into the shop. During his testimony, Hale said both Evans and Chris Pack were in the shop when he arrived and that after speaking briefly to Pack, he and Evans stepped aside in the shop and made the drug transaction. In the video tape of November 13, Hale again is shown arriving at the tire shop as Evans is working on a tire. As the men walk through the shop, they are screened from view behind a portion of the building. In both cases, the video and audio recordings are of poor quality and no drug transactions are discernible.
After the alleged transactions were made on both dates, Hale drove back to the prearranged secure location and met with detectives Taylor and Cantrell where he was again strip searched down to his boxer shorts. According to the detectives, Hale had only in his possession the pills he purchased from Evans. His car was also searched for contraband. Another defense theory is that Hale may have had the pills to frame Evans all along and concealed them from detectives even during a search of his clothing and car.
In addition to Hale and detective Taylor and former detective Cantrell, Sheriff Patrick Ray also testified for the prosecution.
Along with Evans, defense witnesses were Elder Ricky Arnold, pastor of the New Bildad Primitive Baptist Church and Gilbert Martin, a Coop employee. Arnold said Evans is a long time member, deacon, and treasurer of the church. Both Arnold and Martin served as character witnesses for Evans testifying as to his honesty and integrity.