June 5, 2003 – Lawyers representing a group of people charged in District Court with being part of a drug conspiracy complained at a status hearing on Wednesday that technical problems were hampering their ability to access evidence provided by the prosecution on CD-ROM disks, and thus, to defend their clients.
The defense was supplied with disks containing only ".wav" audio files that have to be opened and played in different ways depending on a computer's Windows operating system. In some cases, a conversion device is needed, and according to one attorney, the complexities involved can be "monumental tasks in nature."
And that, several defense attorneys told federal Magistrate Judge Geoffrey Barnard in the "discovery" proceedings, was making it impossible for them to share the information with their clients who are being held in a federal detention center in Puerto Rico.
The government lawyers said they want to share the evidence. But they added that once defense attorneys access the data, they don't expect to answer many supplementary questions.
To resolve the disk-access problems, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Sulzbach invited the defense lawyers to visit the U.S. Attorney's Office on St. Thomas to view and listen to the recorded data before the next scheduled hearing in the case, set for June 25. Barnard said arrangements can be made to fly the defendants in Puerto Rico to St. Thomas to take part in the discovery process.
Investigators collected evidence through audio and video surveillance as they built their case against defendants Andy Antoine, Jacquelyn Carr, Rafael Cintron, Rudolph Clarke, Elroy Dowe, Daniel Fleming, Craig Hendricks, Ranney Laronde and Russel Robinson. All nine are charged with conspiracy and intent to distribute cocaine.
Eight of the defendants were named in a grand jury indictment in April, although two were not identified publicly at the time the indictment was announced.
Carr's name was publicly connected to the case during the Wednesday hearing. According to Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Azekah Jennings, Carr, the only female defendant, was one of the defendants who were not named at the time the indictment was made public several weeks ago. He declined to describe her alleged role in the case but said further information may be disclosed later.
The grand jury charged that the group smuggled cocaine through an elaborate distribution network involving speedboats and a small plane bought with proceeds from previous drug sales. Information that was gathered by police and federal agents and presented to the grand jury spanned more than two years.
Sulzbach told Barnard that 90 percent of the physical evidence, taped evidence and videotaped surveillance relates to two of the suspects, Hendricks, described as the mastermind of the alleged conspiracy, and Dowe.
Lawyers representing other defendants said they wanted to be sure the evidence doesn't include any reference to their clients or describe any situations that might allegedly have involved them. Some asked for guarantees that nothing on the surveillance tapes would implicate their clients; prosecutors were reluctant to provide such assurances.
Sulzbach said the documented evidence includes nine videotapes, 27 CDs containing essential recordings and 53 audio cassettes.
Exchanging information about how the two sides will present their cases is part of the "discovery" process in legal proceedings. Lawyers with the U.S. Attorney's Office said they would not be willing to answer too many defense questions about their submissions, because to do so could reveal too much about how they believe the alleged drug conspiracy played out.
Also appearing before Barnard on Wednesday was Montclaire Guishard, a Planning and Natural Resources Department enforcement officer who was arrested a few days before the grand jury indictments were made public. Guishard, who is free on $25,000 bail, appeared in court and entered a not guilty plea to charges of conspiracy, unlawful acceptance of property, making false reports, and withholding information about criminal activity.
Attorney Judith Bourne, who is representing Guishard, said that she, too, had been having difficulty reading the CD-ROMs submitted by prosecutors in discovery.
In spite of statements made by prosecutors that Guishard's attorney received the same set of evidence as those of the other nine defendants, Jennings on Wednesday denied that there is any connection between the two drug-related cases.
Guishard was charged in April with taking a bribe from a suspected drug smuggler after having stopped a speeding motor boat in Benner Bay in January and having found quantities of cocaine and marijuana on board. He also was charged with filing a report misidentifying the man taken into custody on the boat, subsequently identified as Lester deCastro, 33.
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