Drug Suspect To Take Plea Deal

Judge's Refusal To Exclude 90 Pounds Of Cocaine As Evidence Is Expected To Be Basis For Appeal

July 07, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

After failing to persuade a federal judge to suppress 90 pounds of drug evidence - the Baltimore Police Department's biggest cocaine bust - defendant Trenell D. Murphy has abandoned plans for a jury trial, his attorney confirmed Monday.

He is expected to plead guilty to a drug-dealing charge during a rearraignment this afternoon.

The shift comes in part because Murphy, 34, could get a lighter sentence for "acceptance of responsibility," said attorney M. Gordon Tayback.

But as part of the plea agreement, they retained the right to appeal the court's recent decision to keep the cocaine in evidence.

"We believe we have an excellent argument and that's what will be heard on appeal," Tayback said.

Nine years ago, his client was convicted of drug possession after officers found 1.9 pounds of cocaine hidden in a doghouse guarded by three pit bulls behind his Presstman Street address. This time, a significantly larger haul was allegedly found in February in the bed of Murphy's Chevy truck. There, neatly packaged and stored beneath an unlocked folding cover, were 41 kilograms of powder cocaine, worth as much as $3 million on the street.

"This was the single largest cocaine bust in the department's history," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, big enough, he added, to affect the city's drug supply chain.

Murphy was indicted on one count of intending to distribute at least 5 kilograms of cocaine, which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life.

But Tayback filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence, because the investigating officers didn't get a search warrant for the truck until after they'd searched it.

A hearing was held June 30 in Baltimore U.S. District Court to discuss the motion. Roughly 20 people showed up to support Murphy.

Baltimore Police Detective Craig Jester, who found the drugs, was called to the stand and examined first by prosecutor Philip S. Jackson, who led the officer through the raid. It began Feb. 19 with nighttime surveillance of the Chevy truck and another vehicle, and ended early the next morning with the cocaine discovery.

Officers had exercised a warrant to search Murphy's home, finding only cash and keys to the truck, to which Murphy first denied a connection. But later he led officers to it and its contents, hoping to spare his family from getting "into trouble for something he did," according to a police report.

During the hearing, Jackson said he wasn't relying on Murphy's statement as a basis for searching the truck, and Jester admitted there was no explicit search warrant for the vehicle before officers looked inside. All the judge had to consider was whether it was legal for officers to lift the back of the unsecured cover to peer inside.

The audience was excitedly chattering during a break outside the courtroom, focusing on the possibility of a technicality saving Murphy.

But after several hours of argument, Chief Judge Benson E. Legg ultimately found that the vehicle was searchable, because it had been used earlier in a crime by transporting drugs.

"The motion to suppress," he said, "is hereby denied."

The courtroom was silent, as was Murphy.

The only thing left to do was schedule the pretrial conference and assemble the jury. But a day later, Tayback's office said there would be a rearraignment instead.

On Monday, the lawyer said that his client would instead accept a plea bargain.

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