So they’ve given their opening arguments, put witnesses on the stand, entered photos and materials into evidence and examined each and every person called to testify. But sometimes prosecuting attorneys and defense attorneys need one last chance to convince the 12-member jury the defendant is guilty or not guilty of committing a crime.
That’s where closing arguments come in.
And Friday in Clay County Circuit Court, Assistant District 16 Attorneys Lindsay Clemons and Rhonda Ellis as well as Defense Attorney Rodney Ray shared their closing arguments with the jury in the possession of cocaine case of Alphonzo Garth.
Clemons said most cases that come before court are pretty simple, hinging on one or two issues.
“This case is no different,” she said.
The Garth case, she said, is simply about the actual act of possessing illegal drugs, which means whomever possesses it knows exactly what the drug is and knows where it is. She went on to explain to the jury about constructive possession, meaning the offender doesn’t have to necessarily have the drug in his pocket or anywhere on him in order for it to be in his possession. But the drug must be in the offenders dominion and control. She used the example of a car owner being away from their car but still having the car in their possession.
On Oct. 6, 2011 Garth was accused of having more than 30 grams of cocaine in the vehicle he was driving when officers approached him on College Street and is also accused of throwing down a bag containing a white substance once he exited the vehicle and arguing with a police officer. The State called different officers to the stand Thursday who testified that the drugs were found in the driver side door of the vehicle as well as the console. Even though Garth’s attorney, Ray, stated that Garth did not actually have the cocaine on him when he exited the vehicle the State continued to argue the point of constructive possession.
“It has nothing to do with ownership, it has nothing to do with title – in fact legally you can’t own a contraband substance,” Clemons told the jury. “So it’s not about who owns it, it’s not about who has it in their pocket, it’s who has dominion and control, and that’s what this case comes down to.”
When former West Point police officer Dewayne Young approached Garth’s vehicle that October night Garth fully cooperated with Young asking for Garth’s identification, but the State said Garth then began to get agitated with Young and started behaving in an unusual way for a simple disturbance call, which Garth was not even the subject of. Jumping out of the vehicle, taking a swing at Young and running off were ways to distract officers from the cocaine in the car and indications to officers that something was out of the ordinary, Clemons said.
“Mr. Garth knew it was there, he didn’t want police to find it and everything he did was to try to get police away from that car,” she said. “If he had sat there calmly we might not have even been here today.”
Defense attorney Ray argued that Garth had every right to get out of his car and believes Young mistreated Garth by allegedly trying to keep him inside the car and continuing to stand beside the car after verifying Garth’s identification. Young testified Thursday that he only remained at the side of the car while another officer was checking identification of a passenger, Roy Lee Robinson, who called in the disturbance to 911.
Ray argued that no one, not one single police officer, actually Garth saw with cocaine and said Garth had already been placed in the back of a police unit when officers found the narcotics. He said to this day the white substance that Garth allegedly threw to the ground has never been found.
Ray asked why Robinson, the passenger, was not charged with possession. He said while the “chaos” with Garth and officer Young was going on Robinson was left in the vehicle alone. But Ellis said that’s not true because Thursday when officer Willie Swain testified Swain told the court he took Robinson to his patrol unit after checking Robinson’s identification so no one was in the SUV during the time officers were trying to get Garth under control.
Ray also argued that the State continued to bring up the large amount of cocaine to persuade the jury that Garth must have had it in his possession.
“It doesn’t matter the amount,” Ray said. “The easiest thing in the world to do is to jump to the conclusion that, ‘You know what, this is a lot of cocaine, he has a drug problem, I’m going to convict the guy because he had to know it was in there.’ That’s not true. Judge Howard told you not to speculate.”
Assistant District Attorney Ellis said Ray had a whole new argument Friday than the one he had Thursday.
“He wanted to make everything seem as if his client was the victim in this case,” Ellis said. “Why was his client treated this way? Poor Alphonzo Garth. And then he wanted to say, ‘If he possessed it all the State had to do was say he possessed it and that’s it.’ That’s an attempt to get an Oscar for the new script that he wrote...Don’t buy his version of what happened.”
After the hearing of closing arguments, the jury received their instructions and went into deliberation where they stayed for about 25 minutes.
To the crime of possession of cocaine more than 30 grams the jury found Garth guilty, and Sixteenth Circuit Judge Lee Howard sentenced Garth to 25 years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of $4,000. After release from confinement Garth will be placed on five years of post release supervision.