Originally created 11/05/02

Agent's account begins 3 trials



When they reached the steps to the apartment that police intended to search, one suspect bolted and the other fell to his knees crying to God, a narcotics agent testified Monday.

"That rose red flags about what was in the apartment," Investigator Mathue Phares testified.

Drug agents already had intercepted a UPS package with 40 pounds of marijuana destined for the apartment, the officer testified. Inside the Ridgecrest Drive apartment, theyfound 2.2 pounds of cocaine and a heavy black trash bag containing $99,189 in cash.

Investigator Phares was the first prosecution witness to testify in Richmond County Superior Court at the joint trial of Robert Hall Jr., 23, Kevin Taylor, 31, and Norval Patten, 26. All three have pleaded innocent to charges of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and trafficking cocaine.

In her opening statement to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Shauna Reeves said the evidence would show that Mr. Hall, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Patten and others made big money by moving large amounts of illegal drugs from California to the Augusta area.

It was a fine-tuned operation until April 2001, when an employee at the UPS Augusta office called the narcotics office about a suspicious package addressed to someone named White at 2814 Ridgecrest Drive, Ms. Reeves said. The marijuana inside the package was wrapped the same as a cocaine bundle later found at the apartment, and the three defendants can be connected to the illegal trade, she said.

Mr. Hall's defense attorney, Bruce Harvey, asked the jury to consider what the prosecution will not have as evidence - any connection between Mr. Hall and the apartment, vehicles or telephones that investigators contend were used in the illegal dealings.

After hearing the opening statements from the attorneys representing Mr. Taylor and Mr. Patten - in which the two men were described as innocents caught in a nightmare of prosecution after doing favors for Mr. Hall - Mr. Hall's attorney asked for a mistrial. The judge denied the motion.

Another suspect in the case, 27-year-old Joseph Scurry, is expected to plead guilty to possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, officials said. A fifth person named in the indictment, 22-year-old Demetra A. Stallings, has yet to be arrested.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.