By Jeff Lehr
A defendant accused of trafficking in crack cocaine in Joplin was acquitted in a bench trial Monday in Jasper County Circuit Court.
Circuit Judge David Mouton granted a defense motion for acquittal after the prosecution finished presenting its case against Michael T. Johnson, 56.
Johnson was arrested and charged with second-degree trafficking in drugs when the Jasper County Drug Task Force and Joplin Police Department narcotics officers served a search warrant on Oct. 4, 2011, at 1320 S. Kentucky Ave. and reportedly seized about 10.5 grams of crack cocaine.
A probable-cause affidavit states that the drugs were found in a sandwich bag left on a shoe box on the floor of a front bedroom. Mail and other paperwork with the defendant’s name were discovered in the same room, along with clothing, according to the affidavit.
Public defender Nicki Neil argued in her motion for acquittal that the state presented no clear evidence that the crack cocaine belonged to Johnson, and the judge ultimately agreed.
The search warrant was obtained on information provided by a confidential informant that drugs were being sold at the address. Narcotics officers conducted surveillance of the residence before serving the warrant, and they reportedly observed Johnson pull up to the address in a truck with a woman, get out of the vehicle and go inside.
The officers stopped Johnson and the woman as they left the residence and then served the search warrant. One of the drug task force officers asked the defendant at the Joplin city jail after his arrest if he had been staying in a back room of the residence where several medicine bottles were found. The officer said Johnson told him that he had been staying in the front room where the drugs and his mail were found.
Johnson was tried as a prior and persistent offender, which means he would have faced an enhanced penalty range had he been convicted. The defendant has felony drug convictions in 2010 in Jasper County and in 1995 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Court records state that he also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1997 in Jackson County Circuit Court.