Jury selection continues as federal drug trial gets under way

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Jury selection continued Tuesday after pleas and motions dominated a multi-defendant federal drug case. Trial proceedings began Monday in Oxford with U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock presiding.
Aycock also accepted a guilty plea from one defendant and separated two others from the trial because they are fugitives.
On trial are Lonzo Lezell Griffin of Cypress Texas, L.C. Ewing of Tupelo, and Airen Paige Williams, Minthu Hoang Pham, Mario Ladell McClinton and Lorde Byron Olliver, addresses not listed.
They are what’s left of a 26-defendant 2010 indictment alleging participation in a scheme to sell illegal drugs in north Mississippi.
A federal grand jury accused them of crimes in Panola County from conspiracy to distribute powder and crack cocaine and possession of guns in the commission of a drug crime to illegal use of cellphones, money laundering and unlawful sale of marijuana.
In the week leading up to the trial, guilty pleas were accepted from eight co-defendants. They will be sentenced after individual reports are prepared by the U.S. Probation Service to assist Aycock with her decisions.
Among defendants pleading guilty July 26 are:
* Shalise Ewing of Tupelo, to one count of conspiring to drive money to Texas from sales of cocaine and marijuana, and distributing the proceeds of the unlawful acts.
* Kerrick Deshaun Hughes of Batesville, to two counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime and possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute.
Pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute powder cocaine were Michael Tyrone Coats of Louisville, Terry Lamar Ewing of West Point, Clemeko Dewayne Starks of Sardis, Ronnie Dean Bennett of West Point and Michael Ladell Allen of Batesville.
Before jury selection began Monday, Valerie Lan Rooney of Cypress, Texas, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct financial transactions with proceeds of unlawful activity across state and international commerce to avoid federal reporting rules.
Tuesday, Aycock agreed to separate two defendants – Ruben Castaneda and Santiago Villalobos III – from the trial because their whereabouts are not known.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com