The disappearance last year of a cooperating witness – who resurfaced Wednesday – could endanger the government’s prosecution of a twice-convicted drug dealer on new heroin and cocaine charges.
Anthony Morris, 30, is charged with eight counts of possession with intent to distribute narcotics. If convicted on all counts, he faces a mandatory sentence of 80 years in prison.
But Morris’ defense attorney argued in court Wednesday that his client’s case should never go before a jury because Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Lee III waited too long to take the matter to trial. In court documents, attorney Edward Ferreira noted that his client has been locked up for six months and that the state’s “speedy trial” law generally requires incarcerated defendants be tried within five months.
Tamara Shewmake, a spokeswoman for Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, argued Morris’ case was properly handled and there are no speedy trial issues to overcome. She said the informant and other government witnesses were ready Wednesday to testify at Morris’ trial.
The charges against Morris stem from a series of controlled drug buys last year involving a woman named Jacqueline Hooper, who also faces felony drug charges in Portsmouth. According to court documents, Hooper bought small amounts of cocaine and heroin from Morris on four occasions in March and April of 2015.
All of the sales were recorded on video, according to court documents. Each was for $100.
Morris was indicted Oct. 1 and arrested the next day. But shortly thereafter, Hooper – who helped police buy drugs from at least one other person – stopped cooperating with law enforcement.
According to court documents, she failed to appear in court for her case on Oct. 19, Nov. 12 and Jan. 13. Following the last hearing, a warrant was issued for her arrest.
Hooper also failed to appear as a witness on March 2 in the case of another man facing felony drug charges.
Meanwhile, Lee sought and received two postponements in Morris’ case – first on Jan. 5 and then on March 9.
Shewmake said Lee requested both postponements because a chemist was not available, not because the informant was missing. She added that Lee waited until last week to release Hooper’s name – and that she was wanted on a failure to appear warrant – out of concern for her safety.