VALDOSTA — Jurors heard arguments from Assistant United States Attorney Leah E. McEwen Wednesday in the case involving Martin Terrell Tillman who is charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine in excess of five kilograms.
Court documents state that Tillman conspired with others to possess a Schedule II narcotic with intent to distribute.
Testimony began with the establishment of a large network of narcotics dealers in South Georgia, spanning between Valdosta, Lakeland, Brunswick, Ray City, where Tillman is a resident, with evidence of phone calls with a Mexican supply source.
Lowndes County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rob Picciotti began with testimony of extensive surveillance of Tillman’s activities in Lakeland and Ray City, along with his association with various individuals. These included meetings that would later be subject to search warrants, including an apartment where a steel pressing machine used to press kilograms of cocaine was used.
Rick Collum, Tillman’s defense attorney, asked why there were no photographs or video evidence of Tillman at any of the locations. Picciotti explained that his surveillance activities would have been compromised beyond the occasional drive-by in his vehicle.
Informant Christopher Phillips, 38, took the stand where he detailed and supported audio/visual evidence of two recorded transactions between himself and Tillman for the purchase of cocaine. He stated that he was “trying to change his life.” He had been previously convicted of two felony forgery charges in 2001 and 2010. Phillips was also paid $1,500 for his testimony, according to Picciotti.
Phillips stated that he had been a habitual user and purchaser of methamphetamine, powder cocaine and crack cocaine for 10 years. He approached officers and stated he would be able to purchase ounces of cocaine from Tillman. Phillips said he had known Tillman for about 12 years through fishing and playing softball.
On Nov. 15, 2010, Phillips purchased two ounces of cocaine for $2,300 from Tillman at a convenience store. Two days later, he purchased three ounces for a reported $3,000. The first transaction involved phone calls and the second transaction included text messages which were provided to narcotics agents from Phillips.
Picciotti explained the lengths taken to ensure a “closed box” operation, meaning that Phillips was escorted, searched before and after the transaction and was under surveillance to prevent him from being able to tamper with evidence or electronic surveillance equipment.
Tillman’s defense attorney argued that in the video provided by the prosecution, there was never footage of his defendant in possession of cocaine. He asked Picciotti if it was possible Phillips had placed the cocaine in a location in the convenience store. Collum also questioned Phillips’ “altruistic” motives for cooperating with narcotics agents.
Picciotti stood by the validity of his operation and implications based on his intent to eliminate variables. Phillips later stated he did not place cocaine at the convenience store at an earlier date.
Collum also questioned the content of the text messages and phone calls and asked Picciotti when the word “cocaine” was ever used by either Phillips or Tillman. Picciotti explained that the word had not been used, but it was typical for dealers and users to use code words to avoid detection or implication.
Further testimony from retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Jim Brady linked Tillman indirectly in two phone calls between two individuals who were under surveillance for narcotics distribution. Although Tillman was not the operator of either telephone, Brady stated that after listening to the recording “500 times” he was able to determine without a doubt that Tillman’s voice could be heard answering a question from one of the individuals who was in the same area as Tillman.
Near the end of the court proceedings Wednesday, United States Judge Hugh Lawson warned the audience against threatening witnesses.
After spectators left, Gerald G. Williams, one of the witnesses, arrived shackled by his hands and ankles after he had been apprehended attempting to flee from taking the stand.
Williams had one foot on the plane before agents arrested him, Lawson said.
After the judge informed Williams it might not be in his best interest to speak without counsel from his lawyer, Billy Folsom, Williams apologized for his actions.
“I got scared,” Williams stated. “I was trying to get back to work. I don’t have any excuses, but sometimes you do crazy things when you’re scared.”
Lawson was pleased with this statement and said that it might help Williams in contempt charges, since he was already out on supervised leave from prison.
Court will resume 9 a.m. today in the federal building located on North Patterson Street.
- Local News
The Art of Determination
Artist Dan Keplinger invests passion into his frenetic pieces. His line work teems with energy. An unexpected trait in the often technically precise medium of printmaking.
Learning center named in Horne’s honor
Noting his lengthy legacy in educating the region's young people, Valdosta City Schools officially renamed the Pinevale Learning Center Tuesday in honor of the late Maceo A. Horne Jr.
Rose: Dismiss ‘Quitman 11’ case
Following the second mistrial in the case of a Brooks County woman accused of voter fraud, a local civil rights leader has called for the issue to be dismissed, but prosecutors plan to seek prosecution for a third time.
Lawsuit challenging Ga. gay marriage ban filed
A gay rights group filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday challenging Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
Commission denies City’s annexation request
Lowndes County received an annexation request from the City of Hahira for five parcels of land that spanned approximately 66 acres, for the purpose of future development, and because the applicant sought city water and sewer.
Confederate Memorial Day observed this weekend
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, Valdosta Chapter 471, will observe Confederate Memorial Day, 10 a.m. Saturday, April 26, at Sunset Hill Cemetery.
Literary Guild hears Fannie Flagg’s latest
“Reading for fun is great, but learning while reading is super,” Sandra Connell told the Literary Guild at the April meeting.
Performance index tops Lowndes school board meeting
Lowndes County Board of Education celebrated the results of the College and Career Readiness Performance Index scores during its regular session Monday night.
Sheriff hosts Prescription Take-Back Day
The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office will collect unused medications this Saturday as a part of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.
Road re-opens following flooding
Lowndes County officials re-opened one road Monday while keeping an eye on the area’s waterways for potential flooding.
- More Local News Headlines
- The Art of Determination