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N.Y. man convicted of cocaine distribution

August 20, 2010|By DON AINES

A New York City man who ducked out of a court hearing in February was back Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court, where a jury convicted him of cocaine distribution.

Eric Christopher Smallwood, 34, also was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The jury deliberated less than two hours after a full day of testimony before Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr., who deferred sentencing until a presentence report is completed.

The distribution charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to court documents.

On May 28, 2009, the Washington County Narcotics Task Force used an informant to set up a controlled purchase of cocaine from Smallwood. But instead of Smallwood, a woman showed up at the Pizza Hut parking lot on Dual Highway to deliver $120 worth of the drug, according to trial testimony.

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The woman, Barbara Merrbaugh, led task force agents to her Tulip Court home, where police said Smallwood answered the door. After a brief struggle, two agents subdued the 6-foot-3-inch, 320-pound Smallwood and searched him, according to trial testimony.

Defense attorney Bernard W. Semler II focused on attacking the credibility of the informant and Merrbaugh, and inconsistencies in police reports.

The informant had been charged with drug distribution before Smallwood's arrest, but had his case placed on the inactive docket in exchange for his cooperation, Semler said. Merrbaugh, who was charged with distribution in the same incident as Smallwood, entered a guilty plea and received a suspended sentence, Semler said.

Semler said police failed to find nine packets totaling 16 grams of cocaine on Smallwood when he was searched at the house. The drugs were not found until a later search at police headquarters, according to trial testimony.

"How much training, time and expertise does it take to search someone's pocket?" Semler asked in his closing argument.

Agent Brian Burke testified that his initial search of Smallwood at the house was primarily for weapons. When the question was posed to him by Robert Veil, the supervising attorney for the task force, Burke testified he did not plant evidence or see any other officer plant evidence on Smallwood.

Smallwood was free on bond when he left the courthouse before a scheduled hearing Feb. 17, Veil said. A bench warrant was issued for Smallwood, who has been in jail since June 1, a Washington County Detention Center officer said.

Smallwood had other drug-trafficking charges filed against him for an April 23, 2008, incident, court records show. Veil said Smallwood was awaiting trial on those charges.

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