Drug Gang Trial - Week 4
Note: To catch up on the first three weeks of this drug gang, murder trial of Sammy and Juan Duque, Marco Antonio Cordero, Daniel Villenas-Reyes, Josh Smith and Shane Rosser. Go to “Archives”, and click on “Feature Stories”.
Friday Evening, February 8, 2008
Thanks to the anonymous e-mailer who made it clear that it is “Borden” Springs, not “Gordon Springs”, Alabama. My ears will be 51 in a few weeks, along with the rest of this grandma’s body. Keep me straight!
Most of Friday afternoon was spent with defense attorneys trying to discredit the government’s witness to the 7th Street, Cedartown, murders. But once again, as many of the government’s witnesses, who are former meth addicts, who used to lie, deal and in some cases, steal, Amada Sorrells stood up to the grueling assaults, took responsibility for her actions, and admitted that even as late as her Federal Grand Jury Testimony in 2004, had lied about some things. But as she proudly explained to defense attorney after defense attorney trying to discredit her, that it was she who decided to come fully clean, and called FBI Special Agent Bob Meadows, to tell him she had lied at the FGJ, risking the loss of her Immunity from Prosecution deal with the Polk County DA’s office.
Like the testimonies of Misty McCray, Candala Adams, Brandee Kines and even Josh Smith himself, Amanda Sorrells testimony came across as the credible statement of a person who made serious mistakes, but who was stepping up, accepting responsibility, and the consequences thereof.
Once Sorrels completed her testimony, Cedartown Police Department’s John Pilgrim and Sgt. Jonathan Zuker took the stand to tell about the September 16, 2003 afternoon they responded to the Emergency calls at 7th Street. According to Officer Pilgrim, when he arrived at the fire, he saw an Hispanic man lying half way in and half way of the front door of the residence. Pilgrim said that the gentleman’s clothes were still smoking, and he called EMS to find out if he could pour water on the burn victim, without injuring him any further.
The victim was conscience, and talking in Spanish to two neighbors who had responded to the smoke and fire. EMS arrived and began treating the victim that day, before Pilgrim had a chance to locate a source of water.
Sgt. Zuker, who was a Canine Officer at that time, told the court that he was just finishing up on a drug bust, when he heard the distress call, and left to take his canine partner, “Mike”, to the scene. Mike, a Belgian Malawa, trained in Europe as a dual purpose law enforcement dog, has training in narcotics detection and tracking.
Mike was able to find the scent/trail of the persons who left the house through the back door, until they got in their vehicle, where tire tracks were found. This corresponded with testimony by both Erika Shelly and Amanda Sorrells that they had left in a car driven to the back door entrance, down the gravel alleyway.
Testimony will resume Monday morning, at 9:30am.
Friday Morning, February 8, 2008 - Emotional Eyewitness Account of Murders
23 year old Un-indicted co-conspirator Amanda Sorrels took the stand this morning, as Assistant United States Attorney Kim Dammers began laying the foundation for Sorrell’s knowledge of the conspiracy, the affiliations, and the manner of operations, all leading up to the three September 16, 2003 murders which occurred on 7th Street in Cedartown.
The soft spoken Sorrells was only eighteen when she first became involved with Phil Smith, now deceased, who had introduced her to defendants Daniel Villenas-Reyes, Marco Antonio Cordero, Sammy Duque and Juan Duque. She and Smith actually lived for a short time with Villenas-Reyes and Cordero at a house on the corner of 7th Street and Slusser Avenue in Cedartown.
After Phil Smith died on January 24, 2003, Sorrels became intimate with Villenas-Reyes, and helped him run his drug business, keeping notes on amounts of drugs sold/fronted and moneys owed/collected.
Sorrels was able to link Timothy Stroup, Erika Shelly, Billy Sims, “Big Country”, Ricky Shaw, Marcella Martinez, (Villenas-Reyes’ wife), Jesse Vargas, Magoo, (Bobby Johnson), Destiny Griffin, Misty McCray, Marie Rodgers, Carl Smith of Bordon Springs, Alabama, Ivan Molina, Steve Brown, Shane Griffith, Dana Crider, and others to the drug trafficking activities of Daniel Villenas-Reyes and Marco Antonio Cordero.
She also fingered Cordero as the man in charge of the organization, the one who made all of the decisions as to who sold to whom, how much was fronted or sold and who bought the dope. Sorrells also recounted the time in May of 2003 when she was ordered to drive to Texas, and pick up Villenas-Reyes, who had been up in arrested and deported in March a few months earlier.
Shortly before lunch, Ms. Dammers led Sorrels in to the recounting of the September 16, 2003 murders at a 7th Street, Cedartown house of prostitution. Sorrels who was only eighteen, and an intravenous meth user, described an argument she witnessed between Villenas-Reyes and a woman named “Andrea”. It was the second such argument Sorrels had witnessed between the two, because the quality of the meth Villenas-Reyes was supplying was getting bad. According to Sorrels, Villenas-Reyes mainlined cocaine and meth, and had to start cutting his meth supplies with other ingredients, which led to complaints from regular customers.
During this argument, Villenas-Reyes allegedly grabbed “Andrea’, led her to another room, tied her up with two boys who lived at the house, and put a plastic bag over “Andrea’s” head. Sorrels testified that she followed in to that room, in time to argue with Villenas-Reyes, asking him not to shoot the bound individuals.
She heard two gun shots, looked and saw one of the boys trying to crawl away, as she watched Villenas-Reyes shoot him in the back of the head. Villenas-Reyes then ordered Sorrels to pour a milk jug full of fluid, she described as smelling like kerosene, all over the room, at which point she exited the room.
When Ms. Dammers asked why she didn’t just leave, Sorrels replied, “ Why, so he could shoot me too”?
Sorrels, left with Erika Shelly, and the boy with the “Bad teeth”, shot up on meth, and then drove to the Super 8 Motel in Rome, Georgia, where Villenas-Reyes was waiting for them. The next day, Sorrels left Villenas-Reyes, and never saw him again until today. “I never wanted to be near him again”, Sorrels told the court through tears.
After going to police in Cedartown, Sorrels received immunity from prosecution, and she was moved out of town. She has received a stipend from the Federal Government, and went in to in-patient rehab. Sorrels is clean now for almost three years, and works full time at an undisclosed location out of state.
Amanda Sorrells’ cross-examination will begin at 1:30pm.
Thursday Morning, February 7, 2008
Court has been recessed for the day, due to the unexpected illness of one of the defense attorneys. Robert Citronberg was hospitalized yesterday evening at Redmond Regional Medical Center, but expects to be released later today. Mr. Citronberg represents Daniel Villenas-Reyes, along with co-counsel, Rome attorney Jason Lewis.
Normally, Lewis could have carried on in Citronberg’s absence, however, the government’s next witness, Amanda Sorrells, will be testifying as an eye witness to murders which Daniel Villenas-Reyes is charged with committing, and Citronberg has been preparing specifically for her cross examination.
After a brief recess to determine if certain out of state witnesses and professional witnesses for tomorrow, could be re-scheduled, Judge Harold L. Murphy dismissed jurors until tomorrow morning, at 9:30, when testimony will resume.
Wednesday Evening, February 6, 2008
The Government closed out Wednesday with another strong day of testimony from several witnesses, in the Drug Gang Murder trial of Sammy and Juan Duque, Marco Antonio Cordero, Daniel Villenas-Reyes and Shane Rosser
The biggest blow to the defense came earlier this week when co-defendant Josh Smith worked out a Plea Agreement, in return for his testimony against the Conspiracy and Criminal Enterprise, including his involvement in the Cunningham Road murders of T.J. Agan and Chris Fortenberry.
The defense team tried to impeach Josh Smith’s solid direct testimony by showing the video of his 2004 interview by former Floyd County Detective Dallas Battle. But Smith was so sure and so credible, so resolved that he was able to fend off the morning long attacks by admitting that he lied. His excuse? After knowing about the shooting of Jesse Vargas by members of the gang, after being beaten by Sane Rosser, after being threatened by Shane Rosser, in front of witnesses and finally after Shane Rosser and others told him the address where Smith’s children lived with their grandmother, Smith knew to keep his mouth shut back in 2004.
Smith even had the chance, on re-direct, to go in to some detail about his beating by Shane Rosser. Just weeks before the Cunningham Road murders, according to Smith, he received a phone call from Shane Rosser, ordering him to a hotel room at the Rome, Georgia Ramada Inn. When he got to the hotel room, he walked through the door, and woke up five days later in the hospital at Floyd Medical Center, with his broken jaw wired shut.
According to Smith, Shane Rosser and others had staged a car accident, with Smith in his car, supposedly running in to an apartment at the Housing Authority. But as Smith explained to the court, he was found unconscious in the passenger side of the 1965 Mustang, with his head through the windshield, on the passenger side, and all of the blood on the passenger side of the car.
Smith was released from Floyd Medical Center on March 25, 2003. Two days later, Smith was instructed to meet Rosser at the Huddle House, where he met Rosser, and Erika Shelly. From there, the trio drove to the Golden Gallon on Cave Springs Road, and on to Cunningham Road where Shane Rosser allegedly shot and killed T.J. Agan and Chris Fortenberry.
After weeks of building the foundation for this fear, with witness after witness testifying to the violent nature of Shane Rosser and other members of the conspiracy, it was clear that even a reasonable person not hooked on meth would consider lying and keeping their mouth shut about the criminal activities.
But even after Smith left the stand, the government continued to connect the tedious dots of affiliations among various members of the alleged conspiracy. Taking nothing for granted, they continued to present witnesses to corroborate previous testimony about acts of violence and threats on the part of Shane Rosser against various individuals.
Michael Reed, 33, of Floyd County, took the stand to testify about events placing Shane Rosser and Josh Smith together, and identifying Josh Smith and Brandee Kine’s Ford Expedition. Russell Owens, 51, of Lindale, then took the stand to testify about his life long relationship to his cousin, Shane Rosser.
Specifically, Owens was able to detail significant drug trafficking on the part of his cousin, related primarily to Owen’s sister’s house on Buttermilk Road west of Cave Springs, Georgia, and the Alabama home of Shane Rosser’s parents. He told about stealing vehicles for Rosser, as well.
Owens also witnessed two separate occasions of violence against Candala Adams, who testified last week. On one occasion, Owens was in the car when Rosser allegedly mentioned the murders, at which point Adams mentioned Cunningham Road. Owens said that Rosser grabbed ADams by the mouth, stuck a gun in her face, and told her he would blow her “F _ _ _ ing” brains out if she ever mentioned it again. At another time, according to Owens, Rosser did not like something Adams had said, and so he hit her in the head with a guitar.
Owens was allegedly present at a home at Brushy Branch, a lake here in Floyd County, when Rosser was collecting from some individuals. According to Owens, Rosser started beating the man up with a gun, and when the woman started screaming, Rosser hit her in the face with the gun.
Owens then told the court that several times before the Cunningham Road murders,
Rosser had complained to him about some boys on Cunningham owing him money. One day, according to Owens, as he was working on cars at the shop at his sister’s place on Buttermilk Road, Shane Rosser walked in, and threw a newspaper on the counter, ordering Owens to read it. Owens told the court that since he only can read at a third grade level, he asked his cousin to read it to him. The story told about Agan and Fortenberry being shot execution style at the Cunningham Road address.
While he seemed a simple man, both GBI Special Agent J.P Foster, as well as FBI Special Agent Bob Meadows have trusted Owens for several years as a Confidential Informant, using him to work in a Bordon Springs, Alabama, meth case. On several occasions, Owens wore wires and cameras for the agents, which have lead to arrests and guilty pleas by several suspects.
Clifford Allmon then took the stand, testifying that he was Shane Rosser’s best friend, setting a time period for Rosser’s previous drug activity reaching back in to the late 1990’s.
Defense attorney Mike Trost questioned Allmon about possible reasons for his turning on his “best friend”, asking Allmon if it made him mad when Allmon learned that Shane Rosser had slept with his wife. “Sir, he done me favor”, responded Allmon, to which the courtroom erupted in laughter. When Judge Murphy gained his composure, he said, “Shameless”.
The final witness of the day was Brandee Kines, who testified about her relationship with Josh Smith. Kines lived with Smith in her home in Silver Creek, on Pleasant Valley Road, after her divorce from her husband, Ray Kines, Josh Smith’s good friend. Brandee Kines helped Smith in the management of his drug business, and had frequent contact with Daniel Villenas-Reyes and Reyes’wife, Marcella Martinez, watching both the money and drugs trade hands.
Kines and Smith were engaged to be married on August 29, 2003, but the day before the wedding, Smith disappeared. When he showed up the next day, according to Kines, he told her that he could not marry her, because he was going to be arrested for murder.
Kines also testified to the time she visited Josh Smith in jail, when both he and Daniel Villenas-Reyes were allowed out in to visitation at the same time. While she was talking to Smith, Villenas-Reyes hit on the glass next to them, and made a motion with his hand, drawing it across his throat. Kines took that as a threat not to talk to law enforcement.
Testimony will resume tomorrow morning at 9:30am, with the cross examination of Kines.
Wednesday Morning, February 6, 2008
This morning’s session of the Drug Gang Murder trial of Sammy and Juan Duque, Marco Antonio Cordero, Daniel Villenas-Reyes and Shane Rosser, started out with accusations by Defense Attorney Mike Trost that the government had not kept Josh Smith properly sequestered in between the time he left the stand yesterday after direct examination, and this morning for resumption of cross examination. He indicated the prosecution had engaged in preparation of the recently turned witness, Josh Smith. Trost said it was a violation of sequestration rules, to which Judge Harold L. Murphy countered that he had never encountered that argument except in DeKalb County civil cases, thirty years earlier.
Assistant United States Attorney, Kim Dammers, explained to the court that Josh Smith had been sequestered as space allowed at the Federal Building, and that this morning he had been brought in with others, offered a newspaper, coffee and water, and had engaged the staff in small talk about the Primary Elections yesterday.
Judge Murphy denied the defense’s objection.
Before Josh Smith took the stand, Georgia Power Investigator Gary West took the stand briefly to testify about the power at the Cunningham Road address having been turned off by Georgia Power on the day the murders occurred.
When Josh Smith resumed the stand to complete his cross examination, defense attorney Mike Trost played the 2004 interview video tape of Smith by former Floyd County Detective Dallas Battle. It was interesting for this reporter to see a veteran detective work the interview. Although Josh Smith admitted later that at the time of the interview, he had been up for fifteen days straight, with no sleep, it was none the less fascinating to watch. For long periods of time, Smith sounded like, and in fact could have passed as a Bill Clinton impersonator. His voice, mannerisms and demeanor today seem to belong to someone else.
Testimony will resume at 1:45pm.
Tuesday Evening, February 5, 2008 - Legal Maneuvering
Legal maneuvering took the latter part of the morning and spilled over in to the afternoon session, as defense attorneys tried to jockey for better positions for their clients in the cross examination of Josh Smith. Smith, who plead guilty yesterday to Counts 1, 21 & 23, including his part in the murders of T.J. Agan and Chris Fortenberry, testified so substantially different from his position held for the last four years, and for what other defense attorneys had prepared for, that there was great consternation.
Clay Whitaker, defense attorney for Sammy Duque, tried to force a mistrial today, by what he called irreversible error in the government’s failure to lay a proper foundation for a question relative to first hand knowledge of comments made to Josh Smith by his client, Sammy Duque. Whitaker argued that because of Smith’s late plea yesterday, which substantially changed much of what all of the defendants had relied on to prepare for their various defenses, that a mistrial should be had because of the highly prejudicial nature of the line of the Governments questioning.
Judge Murphy did not agree, however, he did charge the jury when they resumed, that the question asked by the government was improper, as the foundation had not been properly laid.
In another dust-up, Judge Murphy did allow a request by Mike Trost, Shane Rosser’s attorney, that he be allowed to show the jury the 2004 video taped interview of Josh Smith by former Floyd County detective Dallas Battle. Originally, Trost argued that it was to impeach Smith’s testimony, under USSC, U.S. v Gordon.
Assistant United States Attorney Kim Dammers argued that U.S. v Gordon had been decided in 1968, prior to the 1975 Rules of Evidence. But Trost countered with the argument that U.S. v Gordon rested on inconsistencies of comments made, and had not been overturned, despite the new Rules of Evidence.
In the end, Judge Murphy allowed the video interview, in part, not so much for impeachment, but to show to the jury the demeanor, facial expressions and body language of Josh Smith in his 2004 interview by Detective Battle, as his testimony today was so inconsistent. In the meantime, as Josh Smith’s cross was delayed until the video could be prepared, the Government called two more witnesses.
Steven Martin Busby took the stand to talk about his relationship with Shane Rosser, threats to Busby by Shane Rosser, as well as a discussion he had with Rosser, when Rosser admitted that he had killed Agan and Fortenberry. Busby told the court, “He put a gun to my head and told me he would blow my ‘f_ _ _ ing head off if I ever told”.
Later, when asked by defense attorney Mike Trost why he did not come forward immediately when he learned that Rosser had killed his good friend, T.J. Agan, Busby responded, “When someone sticks a gun between your eyes, and says he gonna blow your ‘f_ _ _ ing’ brains out - yeah, I was scared”.
The last witness of the day was Amanda Causey, who had lived with Keith Shed for several years before he was arrested. Causey related that when Shed went to prison, “Ozzie”, co-conspirator Ozvaldo Andrade, expected her to take up Shed’s business, since she had already been helping deliver drugs, collect money, and was therefore familiar with all of the customers. At one point, she got in debt to Andrade for approximately $30,000.00.
Causey testified that at one time, both Josh Smith and Shane Rosser were her drug clients, but as she became intimate with Josh Smith, Smith began to deal directly with Ozvaldo Andrade. Causey linked Andrade as well as Edgar Bautista Becerra, the two who had shot Jesse Vargas, with Daniel Villenas-Reyes, and a man Causey referred to as “Victor”.
Testimony will resume Wednesday morning, at 9:30am.
Tuesday Morning, February 5, 2008 - Josh Smith Takes the Stand
Dr. Daniel Goldfaden, a cardio-thoracic surgeon at Floyd Medical Center took the stand this morning, to describe wounds which Jesse Vargas sustained during the 2002 shooting at his home in Sherwood Forest. Vargas was shot at least five times, twice in the left lung, once in the right shoulder through the scapula, once in the abdomen, although the wound did not penetrate the abdominal cavity, and once in a superficial wound to the leg. There was a sixth, superficial wound to the neck, which could have been a sixth individual shot, or a nick as the bullet penetrating the scapula passed the neck.
Angela McGraw, a histologist from FMC, followed, to identify the bullet which her department had received from surgery that day, and the assigned surgical number for identification.
Then, Joshua Daryl Smith took the stand, and began his very long testimony about his affiliation with various members of the Criminal Enterprise, the severe beating he received at the hands of Shane Rosser, which left him unconscious for almost a week. Smith had been released from the hospital for only a couple of days when Rosser called him to tell him that he would accompany Rosser to collect a drug debt. According to Smith, his knowledge of the Jesse Vargas shooting, the beating from Shane Rosser, as well as threats against his family should he talk to Law Enforcement, placed him in fear to go to authorities.
Smith’s testimony mirrored Erika Shelly’s testimony of the night of the Cunningham Road murders, except for a few minor details. Smith said that he was standing outside of the trailer when he heard the first gun shots, at which point the entered the trailer. Agan was on the floor already, and Fortenberry, according to Smith, was running from the back bedroom towards the front of the trailer. According to Smith, Rosser ordered Fortenberry on the floor, and then ordered Josh Smith to shoot him. When Smith refused, an argument ensued, during which Rosser called Smith a “Pussy”, and then shot Fortenberry in the back of the head.
Smith confirmed that Fortenberry’s body had to be pulled out from in front of the door, in order for Erika Shelly, whom he had known only as “the red-headed girl”, to exit the trailer. Smith told the court that he and Rosser then searched the trailer for money, drugs and valuables, primarily weapons. They also found a black notebook in the hidden, hollowed out hole in the wall of the trailer near the back bedroom, behind a sheet of paneling.
Testimony will resume at 1:15pm
Monday Morning, February 4, 2008 - Josh Smith Pleads Guilty
Josh Smith. Co-defendant in the Drug Gang Murder Trial along with Sammy and Juan Duque, Marco Antonio Cordero, Daniel Villenas-Reyes and Shane Rosser, plead guilty this morning in Federal Magistrates Court, to Counts 21 and 23 of the 29 man indictment handed down in July 2005. These specific counts included the shooting death of Truitt Jerome Agan, (T.J), and Christopher Fortenberry.
Josh Smith will take the stand later today to tell the jury about his involvement in the Criminal Conspiracy, which he became involved with in the fall of 2002. He was made aware of the shooting and attempted murder of Jesse Vargas, and was told by other members of the conspiracy that this was what happened to snitches and those who would not re-pay their drug debts.
Josh Smith was later subjected to a beating by members of the conspiracy, during which he suffered a broken jaw. He was told that if he ever snitched, he and his children would be killed.
ON the night of March 27, 2003, Shane Rosser called Smith, and told him he needed to help him collect a debt from T.J. Agan, because Agan owed a significant sum to Rosser, who in turn owed a significant sum to Sammy Duque. Smith accompanied Rosser and Erika Shelly to Agan and Fortenberry’s trailer that night, and while they carried guns, Smith thought that it was only to threaten. After shooting Agan, Rosser ordered Smith to shoot Fortenberry, Smith refused, they argued, and Rosser shot Fortenberry as well.
Special Agent Robert W. Meadows, FBI, has been the lead agent in this case, assisted by I.C.E. Special Agent Everhart, GBI Special Agent J.P. Foster and Major Tommy Shifflet of the Floyd County Police Department . Assistant United States Attorneys Kim Dammers and William Traynor have prosecuted this case.
Smith’s sentencing date is set for April 11, 2008.
Stay tuned for updates later today.