Andrew Jackson sat at the defense table, his arms wrapped around his slim frame, and his knee bouncing in anticipation as he waited for the jury to enter the courtroom at the U.S. Courthouse in Brunswick.
A significant portion of the next decade-plus of his life hung in the balance — if convicted of Count 1, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distributing 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, a quantity of crack and a quantity of marijuana, he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to life. If released from prison, he would be on probation for at least five years, up to a lifetime.
The other charge — Count 29 on the indictment — was possession of 500 grams or more of cocaine with intent to distribute. That charge carried a minimum of five years and up to 40 years in prison, along with a minimum of four years and up to a lifetime on probation.
The jurors filed in, and he and his attorney, Mark O’Brien of Tampa, Fla., stood to receive the verdict, which came clearly in an otherwise silent courtroom — not guilty on Count 1, not guilty on Count 29. Jackson hugged O’Brien and, as U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood read out the closing instructions to the court, he covered his face with his hands as he became emotional over the result that meant he was a free man. He continued to wipe the tears from his eyes while the jurors left the room, and hugged O’Brien again and talked with him briefly before rejoining his family.
“While we respect the government, I am pleased the jury acquitted Andrew of all charges,” O’Brien said following the trial. “We thank the jury for their diligent work in reaching their not guilty verdict.”
In his closing argument, O’Brien said that Jackson was not a target of the conspiracy investigation launched by federal and local law enforcement — he was just thrown in at the end when co-defendants Darrius Merrell and Jessica Tabuteau pointed the finger in his direction as the person who arranged to have a kilogram of cocaine sent to Brunswick in September 2017.
That whole buy, of course, was initiated by investigators after they got John Eugene Overcash to cooperate with the investigation. According to testimony in this case, in other hearings, and according to phone recordings played for the jury, Overcash and Merrell spoke numerous times about purchasing 3 kilos of cocaine from Merrell’s source in Florida.
Merrell eventually told Overcash — on the day of the delivery — that his source could only supply one kilo that day and would supply the others within the next day or two.
Tabuteau testified that Keneil King, who put the cocaine in her trunk and rode with her to Brunswick, told her that his name was Drew. That part of the testimony created some amount of confusion. And while there was a local police file connecting Jackson with a particular 541 number that was called and texted many times by Merrell and Tabuteau, other than their testimony and the testimony of the man who said he purchased the phone service for Jackson, there wasn’t anything additional attaching the defendant to the phone number.
While investigators had phone taps to record many contacts made by Overcash and Kenneth Leon Bradley, who are the first two people listed in the indictment, there were no recorded calls with Jackson’s voice.
The jury may have taken into account other issues, like that Tabuteau first said a man by the name of Mikey Smith told her to take King and the contents of his gym bag up to Brunswick from Orlando. According to statements made in court, she then changed her story to say a former boyfriend by a different name was the person behind the deal. It wasn’t until a month after her arrest that Tabuteau accused Jackson of doing the deed.
Also, Merrell testified that before this arrangement occurred, Jackson burned him in a fake $40,000 drug deal. Merrell said he became acquainted with Jackson when they worked together, and they eventually collaborated on drug purchases of significant amounts — here and there, around 30 pounds of marijuana and a kilo of cocaine, depending on the circumstance. This one time, Merrell said he picked up the containers from the drug courier and later discovered the containers contained actual masonry bricks.
O’Brien said that gave Merrell motive to turn on Jackson in this case, while helping himself at sentencing. Merrell said that wasn’t true, and that Jackson made it up to him on a later deal.
What this verdict means for other defendants in the case who have yet to be sentenced is unknown. Jeremy McIntyre is scheduled for sentencing Friday. Merrell and Marcus Mungin are up Feb. 6. Richard Carter, Troy Crosby and Anthony Bernard Lewis receive their sentences Feb. 8. Tabuteau’s sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 4 but that hearing was canceled in December. Sentencing dates have yet to be set for Bradley, Overcash, Clifton Foster and Edrin Temple.