By MELINDA WILLIAMS
A Pulaski County jury and judge sent a message to repeat drug dealers Monday to expect lengthy prison sentences if they get caught.
In keeping with a jury’s recommendation, Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long Jr. imposed a 30-year prison sentence on Elliott Thomas Webb Jr., saying he heard nothing from Webb and saw nothing in a background report to compel him to change the jury’s verdict.
“This is the consequence of selling cocaine for a third time. Drugs are the scourge of this county and this country,” the judge told Webb. He said he doesn’t like sending Webb to prison for so long given the fact Webb has four children (ages two, six, seven and 19), “but you’re the one who sold drugs.”
In addition to the 30-year prison sentence, Long also imposed a jury-recommended $500,000 fine and ordered Webb to be placed on a year of supervised probation upon release from prison.
Defense attorney Ryan Hamrick asked the judge to impose the 30 years, but then suspend a significant portion of the sentence. He pointed out the drug transaction was a “controlled buy” involving a confidential informant with “a number of felony convictions.” He said the amount of drugs in question was less than an ounce and added that the two prior convictions were in 1987 and 1993.
Monday, Webb admitted he sold drugs the first two times he was convicted, but he maintained innocence in the case for which he was being sentenced.
Special prosecutor Chris Rehak said Webb received a fair trial and even chose to testify. He said reducing the jury’s recommended sentence would “dilute the role of the jury.” He also pointed out the jury could have imposed a life sentence on the third offense, but chose to give Webb 30 years instead.
“I do this with a heavy heart,” Judge Long told Webb before imposing the sentence, “but the jury’s verdict should be upheld.”
According to evidence presented in court Monday, Webb was convicted in Roanoke in 1984 of two counts of robbery stemming from a single incident.
A 10th grade dropout from Pulaski County High School, Webb said he has worked most of his life as a cook, including two years at Hotel Roanoke. He is now receiving disability for being bipolar and schizophrenic. While he has medication, he said he sometimes wouldn’t take it.
He indicated he was battling depression at the time of his 2010 drug arrest. Asked by Hamrick before being sentenced what his biggest concern is about receiving a long prison sentence, Webb said, “missing my son (two-year-old). Missing all of my children.”
He added, “I know I did a lot of things in my life that I feel bad about. I felt I was doing good while I was out (of prison) in the world. I never did anyone no harm.”
Webb also was in court Monday for a probation revocation on an earlier conviction of impeding law enforcement. At the time of his conviction, he was sentenced to three years, with 2.5 years suspended.
According to prosecution evidence, Webb violated probation by failing to report to his probation officer upon release from jail on the impeding conviction; for receiving new charges (cocaine distribution and possession of oxycodone), and by failing to complete requirements of a community corrections program.
Webb contended he didn’t know he was on probation on the impeding charge because probation officers never contacted him after he was released from jail.
Rehak suggested it was Webb’s responsibility to contact probation officials. Nevertheless, he said Webb violated conditions of probation by receiving new charges. “At a minimum he’s failed to keep the peace and be of good behavior,” said the special prosecutor.
Hamrick asked Judge Long to keep in mind the fact Webb had just received a 30-year prison sentence when ruling on the probation violation.
The judge convicted Webb of violating probation and ordered him to serve the entire two years, six months remaining on the impeding conviction. He ordered the time be served consecutive to the drug sentence, leaving Webb with a total of 32 years, six months to serve.
Two other charges of failing to complete community corrections and assault and battery were nolle prosequi (not prosecuted with the option to refile) at the prosecution’s request.
Hamrick has filed a motion to dismiss the oxycodone possession charge, saying Webb’s right to a speedy trial has been violated. Rehak argued that the defense never objected to continuances, but Hamrick contends the defense doesn’t have to do anything.
Judge Long asked both sides to develop a timeline of the case “to make the record clear. “ He also asked Rehak to cite case law supporting the prosecution’s contention the defense has to object to continuances for the speedy trial rule to apply.
That case is slated for a jury trial Nov. 18 if Judge Long overrules the motion to dismiss.