Trial found to be better for defendant

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Lewisburg man's insistence on a jury trial paid off when he was found not guilty of the offences with which he was charged in a one-day trial Monday. He was not set free, however, because the jury found him guilty of a lesser-included offence.

Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard sought a guilty verdict on both counts of an indictment that charged John Paul Hurt, 59, of Peartree Apartments, with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance (crack cocaine) with intent to sell and deliver, a felony.

The jury of five men and seven women deliberated for about 30 minutes before returning a not-guilty verdict on those charges. They did find Hurt guilty of the lesser-included offense of simple possession, a misdemeanor. Hurt will be sentenced on April 7. He was indicted by the grand jury in December.

Barnard presented evidence from agents of the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force. The agents testified they saw Hurt and his brother, the driver, arrive at a location the agents were staking out for a drug buy in March last year, and leave a few minutes later, running a stop sign. They conducted a traffic stop and then a consensual search of the vehicle. During the search a pill bottle containing .43 grams of crack cocaine was found in the passenger-side door pocket.

Hurt claimed it, and told law enforcement that he had been getting small amounts of cocaine from a source in Maury County and selling it. A search of Hurt's person found $297 in his pants pocket. Lewisburg Police Officer John Christmas searched Hurt again before transporting him to jail and found five $20 bills in his coat pocket. This was identified as money the confidential informant had been given for the drug buy.

Hurt did not testify on his own behalf, and the defense called no witnesses.

"All I've ever asked you to do is follow the law and apply the facts," Barnard told the jury in his closing argument, "Passion, prejudice and mercy have no place in a court of law.

"This is a Schedule II controlled substance being sold on the streets of Lewisburg," he reminded them. "The evidence is there. Do what it shows. Do what the law tells you."

Bill Harold of the public defender's office presented closing argument for the defense saying that Hurt was a customer who had bought the crack for his own use.

"Be fair," Harold urged. "We're not asking for mercy. We're asking you to follow the law. Find him guilty of simple possession."

In the end, that was just what the jury did. Barnard blamed himself, saying he would go back over the case in his mind and perhaps see what he could have done differently to get the guilty verdict he had been confident of achieving.