Jurors returned to District Judge Dennis Morris’ courtroom for a second time Thursday afternoon having found 34-year-old Eric Jerome Jackson guilty of conspiracy to traffic in a controlled dangerous substance earlier that morning. After a second round of deliberation, jurors were set to deliver their sentence recommendation before Morris beat them to the punch.
While the jury deliberated, Jackson decided to change his not guilty plea to a blind plea, putting his fate into Morris’s hands.
“Mr. Jackson had five prior felony convictions which, under the law, are considered enhancements,” Morris said. “Without a felony, he would be required to serve 15 years, 85 percent of the sentence.”
Morris said that each felony added to the minimal penalty, which for Jackson was 45 years.
“In order to save you from the anguish of having to hand down this sentence I have accepted his blind plea,” Morris said. “I am willing to take on the responsibility of taking the burden of sentencing.”
According to District Attorney Craig Ladd, Jackson is currently serving consecutive sentences of 15 years for Possession of CDS, six years for felonious possession of a firearm and four years for possession of CDS due to prior convictions.
“Rather than allow the jury to sentence him, Mr. Jackson waived his right to have a jury sentence him at the last minute and essentially left sentencing up to the trial Judge, Judge Dennis Morris,” Ladd said. “Judge Morris sentenced Mr. Jackson to 45 years to be served consecutive to the time Mr. Jackson is currently serving.”
Jackson will be required to serve at least 80 percent, or 38 years, of the new sentence before he would become eligible for parole.
Before finding Jackson guilty, jurors heard closing statements from the prosecution and the defense Thursday morning.
Russ Cochran, attorney for the Oklahoma Department of Narcotics, began his closing statements by recapping what he called a “glimpse of the drug trafficking that has got its tentacles in Carter County,” which included an incident where officers were able to arrest a co-conspirator in possession of more than a pound of methamphetamine, and conversations that discussed “splitting up” three pounds of meth, buying four-eight pounds of meth and putting together $25,000 to make a down payment on 30 pounds of meth.
“Jackson was only concerned with position, power and profit,” Cochran said.
Cochran asked the jury to consider the law in applying evidence in which he emphasized an “agreement that caused members of the conspiracy to act.”
“Jackson directed her (a co-conspirator) to drive to Oklahoma City and get meth to bring back to Ardmore,” Cochran said. “They don’t have to carry out the underling act to be a company to conspiracy.”
Though in this case the underling act led to the arrest of a co-conspirator and the seizure or more than a pound of meth. The amount of meth seized and the individual packaging was used by defense attorney Cynthia Viol to undermine the claim of aggravated trafficking as the amount contained in the largest bag, which she referred to as the “motherload” was less than the 450 grams threshold needed for the charge to elevate to aggravated. The amount was also less than the amount the jury heard Jackson and the co-conspirator discuss through calls obtained through wiretaps.
“They talked about ounces and they talked about pounds,” Cochran said. “There (the amount seized) was enough there get 500 to 5,000 people in Carter County high on meth.”
Viol countered Cochran’s closing statement by stressing that the amount seized — both collectively and in the largest bag — was not consistant with the amount overheard being discussed via wiretap, before arguing that no defined agreement was in place between Jackson and his co-conspirators.
“The wire conversations sound like a lot of gibberish,” Viol said. “The state provided an interpretation,” implying that the conversations were full of code and slang words that might not mean what the state-provided interpreter thought.
Viol argued that conspiracy required an agreement and that the wire conversations produced no agreements, only negotiations.
“Negotiations are not a crime, it only becomes a crime when an agreement is made,” Viol said. “At one point they came to an agreement, but what for, we do not know.”
Viol also argued that the state failed to prove possession of the bags of meth, while a co-conspirator from the wire tap conversations was in the vehicle at the time of the seizure, a second occupant, the driver, was not charged.
Cochran countered by arguing that the defense was trying to shift focus away from Jackson toward the bags of meth on display in the courtroom.
“Should Jackson be allowed to peddle more from the penitentiary because he is already there?” Cochran said.
After sentencing, Morris took the time to personally thank each juror individually, as well as the attorneys representing the state and the defendant.
“After today’s verdict I feel compelled, on behalf of our office and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, to offer our sincere appreciation to the jury for their service on this very important case. Attorneys Russ Cochran and Karissa McKinney of O.B.N. prosecuted the case in a very thorough and professional manner,” Ladd said. “I am very grateful for their service in representing the State on this case, which was based primarily on an exceptional investigation conducted by O.B.N. in collaboration with representatives of other law enforcement agencies, including Ardmore policemen Phil Shepard and Brandon Cathey, in order to stifle the drug trafficking network led by Eric Jackson. We are extremely pleased with the outcome today on this case.”