7th Circuit affirms convictions in North Vernon drug conspiracy

August 4, 2017

An Indiana district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a group of defendants’ pretrial motions in a wide-ranging drug conspiracy case, nor was the evidence insufficient to support their convictions, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Donald Maggard, David Bell, Jeremy Jackson and Dorothy Neeley were all involved in a methamphetamine distribution conspiracy with 15 other people in late 2013 and early 2014 in North Vernon. Neeley supplied the meth, while she and Maggard distributed it to other dealers, including Bell and Jackson.

In April 2014, Neeley sold Jackson a potent batch of meth that killed his wife, Jessie. Several people witnessed Jessie convulsing and lying unconscious, but Jackson did not tend to her. Instead, he claimed he thought she was faking and refused to let anyone take her to the hospital.

Some of Jackson’s friends called for an ambulance, but paramedics were unable to revive Jessie. Meanwhile, government officials were already investigation the meth distribution ring and had been authorized to conduct surveillance on Maggard’s phone, which led to the discover of communications about the drug activity.

All 19 defendants were indicted on 23 counts and various sentencing enhancements, including “that death resulted from the use of methamphetamine distributed by (Jackson and Neeley).” While the other 15 defendants pleaded guilty to at least one charge, the appellants in the instant appeal decided to go to trial and made several pretrial motions.

First, Maggard and Bell moved to sever their trial from that of Jackson and Neeley because unlike Jackson and Neeley, they were not charged with distribution resulting in death. Additionally, Jackson moved to bifurcate the substantive allegations against him in the indictment from the sentencing-enhancement allegation as a way of preventing the government from introducing evidence related to his wife’s death. Finally, Maggard, Bell and Neeley moved to suppress the wiretap evidence.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana dismissed each of the motions, and each defendant was found guilty as charged at a joint trial. Neeley was sentenced to 22 years followed by five years of supervised release, while the other three were sentenced to aggregate terms of life followed by 10 years of supervised release.

On appeal, the appellants first argued the district court abused its discretion by denying their pretrial motions. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision Friday, with Judge Michael Kanne writing the district court’s order granting the use of the phone surveillance included a determination “on the basis of the facts submitted by the applicant” and that the government’s wiretap application and affidavits established statutory necessity.

Further, Kanne wrote Maggard and Bell did not renew their motion for severance at the close of evidence, so their appellate argument is waived. Even without the waiver, the district court did not abuse its discretion because Maggard and Bell received a fair trial, the judge wrote. Similarly, Kanne wrote the probative value of the evidence of the circumstances surrounding Jessie’s death outweighed its prejudice such that the evidence did not unduly prejudice Jackson.

Finally, the 7th Circuit determined the evidence was sufficient to support the defendants’ convictions because “the jury heard both direct and circumstantial evidence of Bell’s involvement in the distribution conspiracy.” The 7th Circuit reached a similar conclusion for Neeley, finding it was “clear that Neely supplied the methamphetamine that killed Jessie.”

The cases are United States of America v. Donald Maggard, David Bell, Jeremy Jackson, and Dorothy Neeley, 16-1776, -177, -1780, -1832.



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