Miss. Supreme Court to hear Sunflower Co. drug case

Published 7:31 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Mississippi Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from convicted drug dealers Tracy Dixon and Jerry Ford, who claim they were denied a fair trial in Sunflower County.

Specifically, Dixon and Ford argue the trial judge erred by allowing a police officer to indirectly testify about a drug buy that the officer did not witness and allowing lawmen to testify as to the street value of the cocaine found during the suspects’ arrest.

Dixon and Ford were convicted in 2004 of possession of crack cocaine with intent to sell. They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison. Each was fined $500,000.

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The state Court of Appeals upheld the convictions in June 2006. The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 order issued Thursday, agreed to hear the appeal.

Dixon and Ford were arrested after Indianola police received a tip that two were carrying illegal drugs. The two ran from a car after being stopped by police.

During the chase, police officers testified both Dixon and Ford tossed away objects that turned out to be containers of crack cocaine. The day after the Aug. 22, 2003, arrests, police said they returned to the scene and found $1,521 in cash.

Officer Edrick Hall testified one of the $100 bills recovered from the wooded area matched that of a bill used by a confidential informant to purchase drugs from Ford.

At trial, the defense objected to Hall’s testimony on grounds that Hall did not witness the alleged drug buy. The trial judge disallowed the testimony.

Later, without objection from the defense, Hall testified he had previously seen the $100 bill as part of the money he gave to an informant to buy drugs. Hall testified the bill was found in the same wooded area where Ford was arrested.

The Appeals Court said the defense could not raise the issue on appeal when no objection was raised during the trial.

Ford and Dixon also claimed the judge should not have let Hall and Officer Tony Cooper testify about the value of the crack cocaine when they were not certified as experts on the value of the drugs.

The Appeals Court again ruled it would not consider the issue because Ford and Dixon did not object to the testimony during the trial.

The Appeals Court also rejected arguments that prosecutors did not prove that Ford and Dixon each had possession of the 20 grams of crack cocaine recovered at the time of their arrests.

“It is clear from the evidence presented that both defendants were aware of the presence and character of the cocaine while in the car together, and that Ford and Dixon were intentionally in possession of the cocaine,” wrote Appeals Judge Donna M. Barnes.

“While neither party had actual, physical possession of the entire 20 grams, the facts of this case suggest that Ford and Dixon intended to possess the entire amount in order to distribute it.”

Barnes said prosecutors proved the intent to sell with testimony that the cocaine was sold to an informant, the money used in the sale was found in the woods and that the cocaine was packaged for sale.