VALDOSTA — After a five day trial, the jury came to a decision on the fate of Martin Terrell Tillman, who was indicted on federal charges for conspiracy to possess five kilograms of cocaine with the intent to distribute.
After almost two hours of deliberation, at about 1:55 p.m., the jury announced that they had found Tillman guilty on the single count.
Closing arguments began at 9 a.m. Friday morning with Assistant United States Attorney Leah E. McEwen reviewing the critical connections between the defendant and a large narcotics distribution network that covered much of South Georgia and had connections to Mexico, Texas, Florida and Atlanta.
Toward the end of her presentation, McEwen concluded that Tillman was involved with the distribution of 25 kilograms of crack cocaine and 432 kilograms of powder cocaine.
She discussed the accuracy behind Lowndes County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rob Picciotti's testimony, from his ability to determine the time of day for a photograph to his high-risk undercover surveillance with voice recording equipment.
McEwen also attempted to established further connections between Tillman and other members of the network, some of which were included in the indictment, such as Isaac Camon, William McKeithen and Brian Glover through photographs of Tillman’s Ford F150 truck and telephone calls.
Witness Gerald Williams, who was found in contempt of court Wednesday afternoon after trying to avoid providing testimony, was also discussed by McEwen. According to Williams, after he was released from prison in 2007, Camon would no longer work with Williams. Instead, he was supposed to deal directly with “Gator,” or Tillman.
He stated that over a dozen deliveries, he received a kilogram of higher-quality cocaine for about $27,000.
McEwen also tried to derail theories from defense attorney Rick Collum that transactions between confidential informant Christopher Phillips and Tillman involved human growth hormone instead of cocaine. She based this on language and measurements used for the liquid injectable steroid, which she stated were usually handled in cubic centimeters instead of ounces of measurement, which was often used for cocaine.
Another defense argument regarding Phillips’ potential for planting cocaine at the convenience store before an operation was also addressed by McEwen. She pointed out that it was highly unlikely Phillips would spend $4,500 out of his own pocket to bring Tillman down. She also reiterated accounts from both law enforcement agents and narcotics dealers who had stated that using words such as “cocaine” and “kilos,” in conversations was unlikely to happen.
Defense attorney Collum asked the jury why no pictures of Tillman had ever been taken at any of the locations under surveillance. He also raised the possibility that other people had driven Tillman’s vehicle to those places. He also questioned why no cocaine had ever been found at Tillman’s residence, vehicle or on his person, even after chemists in laboratories who worked with the drug had described how easy it was to become contaminated with the powdery substance. He also asked why nodrug paraphernalia or hordes of cash were found on Tillman.
Regarding the human growth hormone measurement unit, Collum reminded the jury that liquids are often measured by ounces, such as soda pop.
He then questioned the validity of testimony by former drug dealers.
“All those people were in the cell and wanted a better deal and would say anything they could to stay out of trouble,” stated Collum. “They wanted to make themselves more valuable as a government witness, but not one instance from testimony was there actual cocaine produced (as evidence)."
He also asked why global positioning systems that had been attached to Tillman’s vehicle and a narcotics dealer in Brunswick had never produced any data that could place the two in a similar area.
After the jury left for deliberation, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia Hugh Lawson allowed transcripts of video and audio recordings to used asreference by the jurors. Narrations that were added by law enforcement officials were redacted.
Two questions were returned to Judge Lawson after about an hour of deliberations by the jury. They asked if Tillman was currently incarcerated or out on bond and also if there were any other charges that he could be charged with.
Lawson did not answer the first question and said there were no other charges on the indictment for Tillman.
After the verdict was presented, defense attorney Collum stated that an appeal would be made on behalf of his client.
Tillman’s wife, Vanessa, offered some thoughts on the case after the verdict.
“I’m a pretty strong woman... I had hopes and doubts and had doubts from the very beginning until the end after witnessing things in the courtroom,” she said.
She stated that character witnesses were not allowed on the stand and that she felt the prosecution was given advantageous treatment by the court.
“The taxpayers' money was wasted on this case... all these different witnesses and inmates came to get deals to lessen their sentence,” she said. “He’s a good man and a good husband and I’m going to fight for him - that’s what a wife is supposed to do.”
Tillman faces a minimum mandatory sentence of ten (10) years imprisonment up to life imprisonment, a $10,000,000.00 fine or both plus five (5) years supervised release and a $100.00 mandatory assessment fee.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with the members of the FBI Gang Task Force which is comprised of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, the Valdosta Police Department, the Lanier County Sheriff’s Office and the Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Leah McEwen prosecuted the case.
U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Michael J. Moore said, “With this conviction, we are continuing to break the links of the drug distribution chain in South Georgia. My office remains committed to making sure that the people who put cocaine on the streets in the Middle District of Georgia wind up in federal prison.”