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United States v. Jones

April 9, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES JONES, APPELLANT.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
CORNELIUS RAYMOND JOHNSON, APPELLANT.



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Riley, Chief Judge

Submitted: December 18, 2009

Before RILEY,*fn1 Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and MELLOY, Circuit Judges.

A jury convicted James Jones (Jones) and Cornelius Raymond Johnson (Johnson) of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. Jones and Johnson appeal their convictions, claiming the government presented insufficient evidence at trial to support the jury's verdicts. Johnson also contends the district court*fn2 erred in denying his Batson*fn3 jury selection challenge. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

On June 12, 2008, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Jones and Johnson. Count I alleged Jones possessed with intent to distribute more than fifty grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Count II alleged Johnson possessed with intent to distribute more than five grams of a substance containing cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). On November 12, 2008, the case proceeded to trial. The government presented testimony from six witnesses, including four police officers and a forensic chemist with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. We summarize the relevant testimony.

Officer Blake Witzman (Officer Witzman) testified that in May 2008 he was working on a Community Response Team and his duties included investigations into drug activity. On the evening of May 14, 2008, Officer Witzman received information from a source that two individuals, "James" and "Cornelius," were selling narcotics in front of the residence located at 4570 Davison in St. Louis, Missouri. The source provided Officer Witzman with a physical description of the two men and described the method the men used to conduct the drug sales. The source stated the men were standing on the porch together, and while one man would stay on the porch as a lookout, the other would conduct drug transactions with individuals who drove on the street in front of the house.

Officer Witzman notified four other officers about the information he received, and the officers decided to meet two blocks east of 4570 Davison in an effort to remain covert. The officers parked their vehicles and continued on foot until they stopped behind a fence located across the street from the residence. Officer Witzman observed several vehicles stopped in front of the residence and at least ten individuals talking to the vehicles' occupants. Officer Witzman saw two individuals standing on the front porch who matched the description the source had provided. Officer Witzman recognized Johnson, whom he had seen around the neighborhood.

After approximately five minutes, Officer Witzman observed Johnson approach the passenger side of a vehicle and have a brief conversation with the occupants. Johnson then walked to the passenger side of a second vehicle and leaned inside before returning to the porch. A short time later, Officer Witzman saw Jones approach a dark colored Impala and lean into its driver side window. Officer Witzman testified the driver extended his arm and handed Jones several plastic baggies containing large chunks. When Jones took the plastic baggies, someone in the vicinity yelled, "Police," and the individuals in front of the residence scattered. Jones took the plastic baggies, folded them inside his shirt, and ran toward the porch.

Officer Witzman testified Johnson, who was standing on the porch, ran into the 4570 Davison residence, and Jones followed Johnson inside. Officer Witzman and Officer Damon Willis (Officer Willis) pursued Johnson and Jones inside the residence. Officer Witzman followed Jones into a bathroom and observed Jones lean over a toilet, open his shirt, and discard the baggies into the toilet. Officer Witzman ordered Jones to lie down on the ground and place his hands behind his back, and Jones complied. Officer Witzman secured Jones, retrieved four baggies from the toilet, and packaged them in an evidence envelope. Officer Witzman testified the baggies contained a distribution amount of crack cocaine.

Officer Willis testified he helped Officer Witzman conduct surveillance of the Davison residence and recited testimony similar to that given by Officer Witzman. Officer Willis further testified that as Officer Witzman followed Jones into the bathroom, Officer Willis pursued Johnson, who was attempting to exit the back door of the residence. Officer Willis ordered Johnson to get down on the ground and then took Johnson into custody. Officer Willis conducted a pat down of Johnson and retrieved several clear plastic bags containing pieces of a rock-like substance, which was later determined to be crack cocaine. Officer Willis testified the amount of crack cocaine he retrieved from Johnson appeared to be a distribution amount, and the packaging of the cocaine was a common method of transfer from seller to buyer.

Lashaun Kegler (Kegler) was a resident of 4570 Davison on May 14, 2008. Kegler testified she was inside her home when two men ran into her home, followed by the police. Kegler stated she had not invited the men into her home on that day or on any other occasion.

Margart Owens (Owens), a forensic chemist with the St. Louis Police Department Crime Laboratory, testified she analyzed the items police seized from Johnson and Jones. Owens determined the substance taken from Johnson was cocaine base with a gross weight of 6.58 grams. Owens reported the substance taken from Jones consisted of cocaine base with a gross weight of 234.98 grams.

On November 17, 2008, a jury found Jones and Johnson guilty of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base as charged in the superseding indictment. The district court sentenced Jones to 240 months imprisonment, and Johnson to 120 months imprisonment. Jones and Johnson appeal, claiming the government failed to present sufficient evidence at trial to sustain their ...


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