By Jeff Lehr
A jury heard testimony Tuesday that about 96 grams of cocaine and two pounds of marijuana were discovered in a Cadillac that Gary Mitchell was driving down Main Street in Joplin more than three years ago.
Mitchell, 38, is being tried on a charge of second-degree trafficking in drugs, a Class A felony that can carry from 10 to 30 years, or up to life, in prison if he is convicted.
The jurors selected Tuesday for Mitchell’s trial in Jasper County Circuit Court are unaware that they are participating in what amounts to a reset. Circuit Judge David Dally was forced to declare a mistrial in the case two months ago when a member of a prior jury disclosed in mid-trial that she knew a witness who was being called to testify for the defense.
Assistant Prosecutor Theresa Kenney finished presenting the state’s case against the defendant late in the afternoon on Tuesday, and the judge sent the jury home for the night in what is expected to be a two-day trial.
The case against Mitchell concerns packages of powder and crack cocaine, and two bricks of marijuana found in a duffel bag on the floorboard in the back seat of a car the defendant was driving on Nov. 14, 2009.
Deputy Chad Karr testified that he was off-duty when he observed what he interpreted as a drug deal taking place in the parking lot of the former Quincy Magoo’s bar at Stone’s Corner on North Main and decided to follow Mitchell’s car as he left the lot. Karr told the court that he then got an on-duty deputy to stop the vehicle, and the cocaine and marijuana were located with the assistance of a drug-sniffing police dog and his handler.
Defense lawyer Daniel Viets questioned why Karr did not follow the other man or have him followed by another deputy if he was a suspected drug dealer. Karr said he followed Mitchell’s vehicle because he had the bag. He said there was no other on-duty deputy in the area who could follow the other suspect.
The prosecution presented testimony that there were 50.3 grams of powder cocaine and 45.7 grams of crack cocaine in the duffel bag as well as the marijuana. A special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration assigned to the Jasper County Drug Task Force estimated the street value of the drugs in the bag at $12,700 to $17,700.
The on-duty deputy who stopped Mitchell’s vehicle told the court that he frisked the defendant for weapons after stopping him and felt a large roll of cash in a pocket. He said Mitchell told him that it was about $6,200. A probable-cause affidavit filed in the case states that the defendant proved to have slightly more than $7,000 on his person at the time of his arrest.
Mitchell reportedly told deputies that the bag belonged to the other man who had been in his car and denied knowing that it held any drugs. He said the man was going to be staying at his place and he figured it contained his clothes.
But the deputies testified that Mitchell later admitted that the bag was his when deputies indicated that both he and the girlfriend who was with him would be arrested if no one admitted to ownership of the drugs.
The deputy who stopped Gary Mitchell’s car back in 2009 testified Tuesday that, besides the drugs allegedly found in the vehicle, a police search turned up a set of digital scales in the center console. Mitchell’s attorney, however, questioned why the deputy had testified at a preliminary hearing in 2010 that no other evidence of drug-dealing was discovered inside the car.