Crack dealers found guilty

By Abby Morris
STAR STAFF
amorris@starhq.com

  
Verdicts returned yesterday in a case charging James Skaggs, 59, and Theodore O'Neal, 47, with possession of schedule II narcotics with the intent to resale found both defendants guilty.
   The two were charged in the case after a traffic stop on April 6, 2001 that turned up approximately one gram of cocaine in the vehicle driven by Skaggs in which O'Neal was a passenger.
   At the beginning of the trial Monday, Skaggs, 606 Lamont St., Johnson City, pled guilty to an additional charge of driving on a suspended license. O'Neal, of Knoxville, pled guilty to a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.
   Carter County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Patrick Johnson testified in court that he was investigating a complaint of sexual misconduct from a woman against a man named Niel Friedman. (The woman later withdrew the sexual misconduct complaint, stating she had filed a false report.)
   "The crime was supposed to have occurred over the weekend, and I was told (by the woman) that Mr. Skaggs had been there (at Friedman's residence) over the course of the weekend," Johnson said.
   According to Johnson, the woman said Skaggs had been at the residence to deliver narcotics.
   Johnson then testified that he contacted Skaggs to ask him if he had information that could help the investigation. He told Skaggs he heard he brought drugs to Friedman's residence on the weekend in question.
   Johnson felt Skaggs may have been upset, and, when he got off the phone, he contacted Drug Task Force Agent Tim Tester about the incident.
   When Tester took the stand, he stated that, after the phone call from Johnson, he went to Powder Branch Road and parked his unmarked car where he could observe the Friedman residence. He stated that while watching the house, a car pulled up and the occupants entered the house and stayed for about 10 minutes before returning to the car and leaving.
   Tester said he then followed the car and observed it swerving, then called for a marked police vehicle to initiate a traffic stop. Constable Joe Lunceford responded and stopped the vehicle near the entrance to Happy Valley High School. CCSD Deputy Matt Lunceford and Constable Bob Carroll also responded.
   Skaggs was arrested and charged with driving on a suspended license. As Tester was performing what he called "a pat down" on O'Neal, he discovered a crack pipe in O'Neal's pants pocket. O'Neal was then arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.
   As officers searched the vehicle, Tester found approximately one gram of crack cocaine under the passenger side of the front seat.
   Tester testified that when he questioned the two men about the drug they both denied knowing that it was in the car or who it belonged to.
   Lawyers for the state then called in Friedman to testify about what transpired at his home on the night of the arrest.
   Friedman stated he had been a crack addict at the time of the incident. He told the court that on different occasions he had purchased crack from Skaggs.
   He stated that, on the night of the incident, Skaggs and O'Neal came to his house and talked to him about the investigation of sexual misconduct. While they were there, Skaggs offered him some crack and said he could pay him for it later.
   Friedman said O'Neal took the crack out of his pants pocket and attempted to hand it to him, but Friedman said he didn't want it and asked them to leave.
   Friedman also testified that nine days after Skaggs and O'Neal were arrested, he saw them at a gas station in Johnson City. He said the two confronted him and accused him of turning them in for drugs. He stated they then attacked him and dragged him into their vehicle by his tie.
   Kathleen Thomas, a clerk at the gas station, saw the confrontation and called Washington County 9-1-1.
   "I can remember seeing them pulling him by his neck," she told the court. "They were saying 'narc' and 'you'll never do this again.'"
   The prosecution also played a tape of the phone call to 9-1-1 made by Thomas as well as a video surveillance tape from the gas station.
   When it came time for the defense to make their case, Richard Norris, attorney for Skaggs, stated that his client wanted to waive his right to testify in his own behalf. O'Neal, however, took the stand.
   He testified that on the night of the incident, he and Skaggs had gone to Friedman's house out of concern for him and to see if they could help him in the investigation. O'Neal said that drugs were never brought up during the visit.
   O'Neal also told the court that he and Skaggs had not attacked Friedman, nor had they tried to kidnap him from the gas station. He said they talked to him and then decided to ride around and talk about the incident.
   Skaggs was incorrectly charged with possession of the drugs, according to O'Neal, who claimed that the crack found in the car belonged to him. "He was charged with the drugs, but the drugs was mine," O'Neal said.
   O'Neal testified that he was a crack addict and that Skaggs had never had anything to do with drugs in his presence other than to attempt to help him get off of crack.
   The prosecution then informed O'Neal they had a video tape of an incident in Washington County where Skaggs allegedly sold 1.7 grams of cocaine to a DTF informant in May 2002 and that it was done in the presence of O'Neal.
   O'Neal then admitted that he had lied on the stand and apologized to the jury for committing perjury. He also stated that Skaggs had previously sold drugs to Friedman in his presence.
   Before the jury retired to deliberate, Judge Robert Cupp reminded them that they were only to use testimony about the incident at the gas station, and O'Neal's statement that Skaggs had sold drugs before, to determine the credibility of the witnesses, not as a measure to determine guilt or innocence on the charge they were being tried for.
   After deliberating for an hour and twenty minutes, the jury returned and found Skaggs and O'Neal both guilty of possession of schedule II narcotics with the intent to sell. The jury fined Skaggs and O'Neal $25,000 each, and Cupp set a sentencing date of Feb. 17, 2003.
   Skaggs and O'Neal face possible sentences of not less than eight or more than 12 years for the conviction.