The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the cocaine-conspiracy convictions of Mrs. Filbert's margarine heiress Sandra Filbert Amos and Colombian immigrant Guillermo Moran because of errors made by the federal judge who presided over their 1990 trial in Baltimore.
The appellate court returned the case to Judge Joseph C. Howard for retrial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett announced the appellate court's decision yesterday.
Bennett termed the conviction reversals "a setback."
But he said prosecutors Lisa M. Griffin and Jan P. Miller will retry the case "with virtually the same evidence," minus evidence on Moran's background that the appeals court ruled was improperly admitted during the first trial.
Amos inherited $2 million from the estate amassed by her great-grandparents, who founded the Mrs. Filbert's Margarine company in Baltimore in the early 1900s. At the time of her arrest, she lived near Easton; played in Aspen, Colo., and Mexico; and had a history of supporting boyfriends who fed her cocaine addiction.
She admitted during her trial that she financed cocaine purchases for former drug smuggler Jeremiah Dennis Case, her boyfriend in 1988, but denied that she ever intended to distribute it even though Case ran a distribution business out of her Easton home.
Amos and Case both testified that she possessed cocaine only to satisfy her own habit.
The appellate court said Howard erred twice by not instructing the jury that it could convict Amos of conspiracy to possess cocaine without convicting her of a more serious charge of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute it.
The appeals court also said Howard improperly allowed the prosecution's "overreaching efforts to introduce every shred of damning evidence against Moran," whether or not it was related to the drug case at trial.
Moran's defense attorney contended that Moran was never in the places where he allegedly sold cocaine to Amos and Case.
Bennett said the 4th Circuit's decision "was not a comment on our lack of evidence. We have sufficient evidence to convict [the defendants] again."
Amos, 36, whose convictions on two lesser cocaine possession charges were upheld by the appellate court, is serving a 14-year, no-parole term at a federal prison in Lexington, Ky. She will not be freed pending retrial because of her other convictions.