By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Jurors deliberated a little over an hour Wednesday before returning a guilty verdict in Gary Mitchell’s drug-trafficking trial in Joplin, a conviction that will send him to prison for at least 10 years.
Mitchell, 38, was found guilty of second-degree trafficking in drugs at the end of a two-day trial in Jasper County Circuit Court. Following the verdict, Circuit Judge David Dally ordered the defendant remanded to the custody of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department pending a sentencing hearing on Sept. 25 and set his bond at $200,000.
The conviction carries from 10 to 30 years, or up to life, in prison. Because of prior convictions, Mitchell was prosecuted as a persistent offender, meaning that even if the judge decides to assess him no more than 10 years, he will have to serve the term with no chance of early parole.
Mitchell also still faces six counts of possession with intent to deliver controlled substances and a single felony count of possession in Jasper County.
Wednesday’s conviction stems from the defendant having been caught Nov. 14, 2009, with about 96 grams of powder and crack cocaine and two pounds of marijuana in a Cadillac that he was driving down Main Street in Joplin. An off-duty Jasper County deputy observed what he thought was a drug deal taking place in the parking lot of the old Quincy Magoo’s bar at Stone’s Corner, followed the Cadillac and had the vehicle stopped in Joplin by an on-duty deputy.
The drugs were discovered in a duffel bag on the floorboard of the back seat of the car. Mitchell told deputies at the time, and testified on his own behalf Wednesday, that the bag belonged to the man the deputy saw get in his car in the parking lot and that he did not know it held any drugs. But two deputies testified that he acknowledged the drugs were his during the course of his arrest.
Gary Mitchell was carrying more than $7,000 in cash when he was arrested in 2009. He was charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana with an estimated street value of more than $12,000.