BIRMINGHAM, Ala., October 3, 2006 -- Just ahead of a major trial in California, Cochran Firm attorney Jim Parkman astonished himself and pulled another rabbit out of the hat as he got an alleged leader of a national drug trafficking ring off on the most substantial count against him out in Tucson, Arizona in a recent trial.
Parkman called the outcome "shocking." He and his defense team had gained some confidence as the jury continued deliberations for four days in the trial that lasted three weeks.
Mark Anthony Simmons could have been facing around 38-40 years in prison without parole, but instead is most likely looking at time in the 5-8 year range, although Parkman can not say for certain at this time. According to the Office of the U.S. Attorney (USAO), District of Arizona, Simmons "faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years." Simmons has been in custody for two years already. Sentencing is currently scheduled before Judge Bury on December 14, 2006.
Federal prosecutors had charged that Simmons was selling "quantities of cocaine in Tucson and elsewhere" and had hoped to use phone recordings, hotel records, phone records and a lot of testimony to convict Simmons. Simmons was alleged to have used his trucking company, G&S Trucking to ship over 5,000 pounds of marijuana and multiple kilograms of cocaine from Tucson to areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania. The government alleges Simmons' activities were "profitable enough for Simmons to purchase three 18-wheel semi tractor-trailers to transport the drugs." The defense says those allegations were never proven in court.
According to Parkman "the prosecutors had substantial evidence mounting against Simmons, we had no or little evidence." He told me he didn't even present any of his five exhibits.
Talking with me by phone on Tuesday, Parkman called the case "one of the best cases we've ever tried...(this is) the biggest victory that we've ever had, even bigger than the Scrushy victory."
Parkman had returned to Birmingham to "try and catch up" and attorney Martin Adams was in Tucson to take the verdict. "We were stunned yesterday afternoon when Martin called."
Parkman had told me prior to going to Arizona there was "no way we can win it." He had advised his client the same way. He says he actually had a good agreement worked out with the government for Simmons to plead guilty the day before the trial started, but "the government withdrew the offer the following morning, so we went to trial...They pulled the rug out from underneath us; so, obviously you make the best of it."
There were tape recorded phone conversations of his client with others involved in the alleged Continuing Criminal Enterprise which was the big count in the case. Parkman says in a trial where that's the case "I never duck for cover." He says, "I can't act like it's going away." So, according to Parkman, in his opening statement he said to the jury, "Thank goodness we got the tapes."
He says one thing that hurt the government was in the recording there was no mention of "dope, drugs, marijuana. It wasn't on the tape." He says in closing he explained to the jury that he could "take an 80 minute recording that you would have with your pastor and pull out bits and pieces and make it look like a crime."
The lawyer with the booming voice says he and William White were also able to destroy the credibility of many of the witnesses, including relatives of Simmons, allegedly involved in transporting the drugs for Simmons. He says, "We did the right things at the right time."
The man sometimes referred to by people as "Matlock" for his easy, often disarming manner says "cops came in from all over the country...New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio. They had "all their folks come in" as well as DEA agents to testify in the case.
And U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Paul K. Charlton says prosecutors worked "closely with DEA and numerous local jurisdictions throughout the country."
Parkman says the Continuing Criminal Enterprise, Count #1, of which his client was found Not Guilty would have been a killer for his client.
Simmons was found Guilty on the Count #2 Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Marijuana where the government had alleged he was trafficking in thousands of pounds of marijuana,but the jury found the conspiracy involved drugs in the hundreds of pounds range instead. Parkman says anything "over 1,000 pounds and we're cooked."
In total, Simmons was found Not Guilty of conducting a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and of two counts of Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana (over 1,000 kilograms). He was found Guilty of Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and 2 counts of Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana (in the 100s of kilograms).
Nonetheless, DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy Landrum believes the government dismantled a major drug trafficking network. "The drug trade has become a losing proposition for traffickers...we have dismanteld a significant drug trafficking organization and stripped them of their drug proceeds."
Parkman says he was very interested to see how folks took to him outside the State of Alabama since he won exoneration for Richard Scrushy in the multi-billion dollar HealthSouth accounting fraud case in 2005.
The affable lawyer says the jury was all white, his defendant was black and an alleged drug distributor, and as he put it "two white guys from Alabama."
"I don't know how we did it,"says Parkman. The high energy attorney says there are still people after the HealthSouth case that doubt whether or not "Brother Loves Traveling Road Show" will play outside the state. He says he wanted to do the case and "prove to others, and to me, we can."
He says this case proved that a "jury will listen as long as you present a good case. They'll go with you, even if you're good ole Alabama boys."
Parkman is getting ready for a case in California where he will defend Stefan Eriksson, also known as "Ferrari Guy." The high profile case is scheduled to get under way in a couple of weeks and will give Parkman another chance to try out his routine in front of a different audience in Los Angeles. Grits, biscuits and pancakes meets Hollywood. Stay tuned.