The trial began Tuesday, for the only one of 16 defendants charged in a narcotics distribution case that reached from Brunswick to Orlando, who decided to take his case to a jury. Andrew Jackson faces charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distributing cocaine, crack and marijuana, along with possession of 500 grams or more of cocaine with intent to distribute.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly said in his opening statement that everyone was in the courtroom because of “choices this defendant made” — gesturing toward Jackson — to send cocaine and marijuana into Glynn County.
Todd Kennedy, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified that a confidential informant alerted law enforcement in McIntosh County in December 2016 that there was a drug-trafficking operation running locally that involved a person authorized to deal in firearms through a federal firearms license.
That person was Jeremy McIntyre, who it was revealed in earlier hearings with other co-defendants allowed Kenneth Leon Bradley to use a shed behind McIntyre’s residence as a stash location, as long as McIntyre received a share of cocaine for his personal use.
Gilluly said the goal of these investigations and prosecutions is to identify the people involved, move up the chain of command and disband the organization. Kennedy confirmed investigators identified John Eugene Overcash as Bradley’s source, Darrius Merrell as Overcash’s source, and Andrew Jackson as Merrill’s source, through a period of visual surveillance and a series of court-authorized wire taps.
Law enforcement conducted a traffic stop on Overcash in August 2017, discovering around one kilogram of cocaine in his vehicle, then searched a residence he was associated where there also was a significant amount of cocaine and marijuana stored. Overcash, working with law enforcement, called Merrell to arrange for 3 kilograms of cocaine to be delivered.
One kilo was to be delivered first, with two arriving the day following the first delivery. Kennedy said when investigators questioned Merrell the day of the first delivery, he said there were two people waiting with the cocaine in the parking lot of an Altama Avenue restaurant. He showed law enforcement texts made to a number with a 541 area code, which Merrell attributed to Jackson. Kennedy said that according to records obtained by law enforcement, between January 2017 and Sept. 22, 2017, there were 269 communications, between calls and texts, between Merrell and the 541 number.
Mark O’Brien, Jackson’s attorney, said in his opening statement that most of what the prosecution and their witnesses said is true, but the co-defendants who pleaded guilty — Merrell, Overcash, Keneil King and Jessica Tabuteau — simply lied to deflect blame and secure less prison time.
“Until this case is done,” O’Brien said, “it’s not going to make sense to you.”
Tabuteau drove the white Nissan Altima, with King in the passenger seat and the cocaine in the trunk, up to Brunswick from Orlando. Kennedy confirmed that Tabuteau and Overcash changed their stories a few times after being caught. Tabuteau first assigned the 541 number to a Mikey Smith, who was Jamaican and ran a clothing store in Orlando, but neither investigator questioned Tuesday could confirm whether Smith was real or imaginary. Both Jackson and King are Jamaican. She later said the number went to Jackson.
While there were extensive calls between Merrell and the 541 number, Kennedy confirmed there were no documented contacts between Overcash and Jackson or Bradley and Jackson.
Michael Lawson, a task force officer with the ATF and a deputy with the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office, testified that Merrell told investigators that he received his cocaine from Jackson and that they became friends while working together when Jackson was living in Brunswick. A third person in that work group, Sanjay Smith, obtained the mobile phone service through Verizon which he then gave to Jackson, according to testimony. Smith is likely to be called as a witness for the prosecution.
Lawson also confirmed a local law enforcement record from a prior matter that showed the 541 number attributed to Jackson.
Jury selection for the trial went rather quickly Tuesday morning, with 50 people called for jury duty. U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood excused around eight people from service before both sides used their preemptory strikes and the empaneling of the jury. All together, there are five white females, five white males, two black females and two black males serving on the jury — it was not made clear which two are the alternates.
Testimony resumes today at 9 a.m.