It took Circuit Court Judge Brian Gibbons of Chester – father of three sons about the same age as the defendants he saw over and over at York’s Moss Justice Center – to cut to the chase about what last week was really all about.
Gibbons, a criminal court judge for just a year, already knows.
“It is obvious,” Gibbons thundered, “that all this misfortune today in this courtroom was caused by illegal drugs. There is never a good ending with these drugs.
“Drugs ruin lives.”
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The case out of Clover involved three ounces of marijuana, a 22-year-old drug dealer named Ezekiel Lundquist, and a day of getting high. He lived with his parents and worked at a video game store. He was contacted by 17-year-old Brandon Davis, who wanted to buy those three ounces of pot.
But Lundquist and his friends – black and white, male and female – had heard that Davis had ripped off somebody else in a small-time drug deal just days before, court testimony showed. Drug dealers prefer to get paid for dealing drugs, so Lundquist gave a gun to another guy for security.
The muscle in the deal used the gun when Davis tried to flee with the drugs without paying. Davis was shot and died.
One dead, five in jail – for drugs.
Families of both the defendants and the victims wailed and cried in the courtroom as Judge Gibbons blamed drugs for it all.
The unmistakeable, undeniable cause and effect – people use and sell drugs, and the result is crime and guns, bullets and death, cops and jails and prisons. Drugs do not discriminate. They ruin the lives of blacks and whites and anybody else they touch, and the sentences handed down don’t have anything to do with race, economics, class, or who your daddy is, either.
The drug trade is an equal opportunity wrecker of lives, those courtrooms in York showed this past week.
Minutes before the Lundquist plea, Gibbons sentenced a 20-year-old from Fort Mill – who was on probation for drug-related arrests – to 18 months in prison because he did not comply with the terms of probation after drug rehab programs and had been arrested on a burglary charge. Several other probation violation cases mentioned drug problems.
The relentless conveyor belt that leads from drugs to jail continued.
At about the same time Lundquist was sent to prison for 10 years for his role in the botched drug deal, Circuit Court Judge Lee Alford of York County was presiding in another Moss Justice Center courtroom.
Alford, 72, is retiring in a few months. He has been a criminal court judge for two decades. Before that he handled Family Court and Probate Court, where lives and marriages and childhoods are destroyed by illegal drugs. Alford has sent hundreds of drug dealers to prison.
Into Alford’s courtroom walked Nathaniel Gilmore, 30, of York. Gilmore had been caught dealing small amounts of crack cocaine and other drugs since age 18. He had spent stretches in prison. He was out on bond until court. He walked in with a young woman and sat on the back row.
Gilmore stood up to plead guilty to possession with intent to distribute 3.5 grams of cocaine – an amount small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. He was caught because he was driving and turned off his headlights when he saw a cop. The cop stopped and searched him. Gilmore tried to run and fought with the officer. The police found drugs that can be sold for $250 to $350 on the street.
It was Gilmore’s fourth drug conviction in 12 years. Prosecutors and Gilmore’s lawyer, Todd Rutherford, a Democratic state representative from Columbia who has railed against court injustices for years, worked out a deal for no more than 10 years in prison.
Alford looked up from Gilmore’s rap sheet.
“Sir,” the judge said to the drug dealer, “you know I could sentence you to life in prison without parole for this, right?”
But the deal had been negotiated, 10 years. Alford gritted his teeth and sealed the deal.
Rutherford did not deny that Gilmore had the cocaine and was selling it. His client was guilty and admitted it. But Rutherford said this in court: “This three and a half grams of cocaine will cost the taxpayers of this state more than $150,000 in prison costs while Mr. Gilmore is incarcerated.”
A few hundred dollars worth of work by a lifelong drug dealer costs the rest of us enough money to pay three teachers.
On his way out of the courtroom, Gilmore waved at the pretty girl in the back row, then walked away for the next 10 years of his life.
Two rows in front of the pretty girl, who left alone because the man she came with was now headed to prison, stood Jacquese Underwood, 29. Convicted drug dealer, fresh out of prison last summer.
His father, Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, is a police officer who has spent three decades locking up drug dealers. Sheriff Underwood recently made a television documentary about scaring Chester County teens straight before drugs ruin them. He hosted a community forum last month about the evils of gangs and drugs after another in a long line of dead teens.
Sheriff Underwood once was shot by a convicted drug dealer while trying to protect the rest of us.
Two weeks ago, the York County drug unit – the same group that arrested Jacquese Underwood – helped Chester County deputies in a huge drug bust involving a marijuana operation. Twenty pounds of pot was seized, and a bunch of people went to jail. Sheriff Underwood led the charge to bust the drug dealers, assisted by the same organization that put his son in jail.
Jacquese Underwood and another man are set to go on trial Tuesday for allegedly trafficking one kilogram of cocaine in 2012. Police said they captured Underwood when the drugs were delivered. A kilo can be cut up, diluted and sold on the street for $100,000 or more. Those drugs, if not seized by cops, could have poisoned uncountable kids.
Underwood and the other man have pleaded not guilty. They are presumed innocent.
If convicted of trafficking, the son of the highest ranking law enforcement official in Chester County would serve a minimum of 25 years in prison. Judge Alford would have no choice but to impose that sentence. No negotiations allowed.
Twenty-five years or more in prison, or freedom.
Finally, at the end of the week, in the same courtroom Judge Alford normally runs, drugs and guns and bullets came back into court.
Three people with histories of drug offenses appeared in bond court after being charged with attempted murder, burglary, conspiracy and weapons violations in the home invasion and shooting of a 70-year-old man. The allegation is that Kaylan Whiteside, 21, schemed with two men in the home invasion and shooting of her grandfather, Wayne Whiteside.
All three defendants were sent back to jail without bond. The future for all three holds more courtrooms and the potential of 30 years or more in prison, if convicted. The two men, Wolfgang Liewald and Ben Patrick Smith, have spent time in prison for substance-abuse related crimes dating back years.
The common theme, all week, was drugs.