Claudale Armstrong found guilty by jury

Friday, March 21, 2014

By Karen Hall

Editor

After a two-day jury trial this week, a Lewisburg man was found guilty as charged.

Claudale R. "Bone" Armstrong, 33, of Thomas Street, was charged with sale and delivery of crack cocaine on July 19 and Aug. 9, 2011. These were indicted as separate cases, but prosecution and defense agreed they could be consolidated because the crimes included the same confidential informant, happened in the same location and in a similar manner, and were mostly witnessed by the same people.

Armstrong was indicted in November 2012, but the Public Defender's Office could not represent him, due to a conflict, so Pulaski attorney Stan Pierchoski was appointed.

Armstrong made a formal complaint against Pierchoski, to which the lawyer responded, "The allegations in Mr. Armstrong's complaint are so false, so offensive and so violative of my professional ethics that he has created an adversarial proceeding between us."

Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell then allowed Pierchoski to be replaced by another Pulaski attorney, Hershell Koger, and the cases were brought to trial without further delay.

The jury were shown video of Armstrong riding in the passenger seat of a car, stopping in front of a house on 9th Avenue North, and exchanging crack for money with a confidential informant who walked from the house to the car.

Agents of the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force were watching the deal from vehicles, and one was inside the house, watching from the front window.

"Agent Tim Miller identified Armstrong in the car," said Assistant District Attorney Bud Bottoms during his closing argument. "There was no doubt in his mind the passenger in that vehicle was Claudale Armstrong."

"Identification is an issue," exclaimed Koger when it was his turn to argue for his client. The attorney cast doubt on the identification of Armstrong by agents looking at him through the windshield of a moving car, and by Agent Travis Childers who was observing from inside the house.

"Childers claims he saw the exchange (of drugs for money)," said Koger. "It's physically not possible. You can't see around people."

The confidential informant is a big woman, Koger continued, and if she were standing at the door of a car, her body would block the view of the passenger and everything going on between them.

"None of the video corroborates the state's case," Koger said. "Identification is the key issue here and it's all messed up. I'm not saying anyone purposefully misled the jury, but memories fade."

Koger concluded by telling the jury it was their job to decide whether Armstrong was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

"It's not my burden to prove Mr. Armstrong is NOT guilty," he said.

Because the state has the burden of proof, it also gets the last word in closing arguments.

"The state has given you more proof than you need to convict him," began Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard. "You've got three witnesses identifying Claudale Armstrong, and two of them are officers. I'm glad to have the burden (of proof) in a case like this where the state has good proof."

The jury agreed the evidence against Armstrong was overwhelming and convicted him as charged. Since the amount of crack cocaine in one case was more than 0.5 grams, a B Felony amount (the crack weighed 0.67 grams when it was processed in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab), Armstrong could be facing at least an eight-year sentence in that case alone. He will be sentenced on May 9.