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Testimony concludes in oxy supplier trial

Closing arguments to take place 10 a.m. Monday

Posted: June 29, 2013 - 11:12pm

Testimony concluded Friday in the trial against a California resident accused of supplying oxycontin in a Sacramento-to-Juneau oxy ring conspiracy that lasted from 2007 to 2011.

Richard Corum is standing trial in U.S. District Court in Juneau on two felony offenses: drug conspiracy and tampering with a witness. If convicted, he could be facing 20 years for both counts.

Before federal prosecutors rested their case, three more co-conspirators testified about their personal knowledge of Corum’s involvement in the conspiracy. The defense, meanwhile, says the testimony coming from the co-conspirators is not reliable and that there’s no other evidence to tie Corum to the crimes.

Hilary Herndon testified Corum was a source of oxycontin for both herself and her boyfriend Milan Thomas. Milan lived in Juneau for a while running the operation from Alaska, while Herndon helped him run things from the Sacramento side, according to testimony.

Like the other co-conspirators who are testifying, Herndon has already pleaded guilty and confessed to being involved but has not been sentenced yet. Defense attorney Peter Offenbecher has emphasized to the jury that the co-conspirators have struck a deal with prosecutors that promises leniency at sentencing, depending how they testify at Corum’s trial.

Vail Thomas, Milan’s half-brother, testified that he was caught at the Seattle Tacoma airport in June 2010 carrying 185 oxycontin pills. He testified he received the pills from Corum.

The defense, however, says Vail Thomas had a falling out with Corum and now holds a grudge against him. Offenbecher says that’s evidenced by the fact that Vail is currently charged with assault with a deadly weapon in California in connection to a shooting that took place inside Corum’s residence on Sept. 12, 2010. When Offenbecher tried to question him about the shooting, Vail invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in order to avoid giving self-incriminating statements.

That prompted Offenbecher to later ask the judge to strike Vail’s testimony from the record, saying pleading the Fifth prevents him from “fully exposing” Vail’s bias against his client. He argued that leaves the jury unable to judge the credibility of Vail’s testimony and amounts to an unfair trial. Judge Timothy Burgess denied the motion.

The last co-conspirator to testify was Lorenzo Williams, who is Corum’s cousin and lived at Corum’s apartment in California at the time. Williams testified he moved to Alaska in December 2010 to receive FedEx packages containing the pills. He testified that idea was hatched by Corum. Williams went into detail about how Corum furthered the plan by buying him two cell phones at Walmart, to be used to set up drug deal transactions. Williams said Corum used a steak knife to engrave ‘In’ on the back of one phone, and ‘*67’ on the back of the other. The ‘In’ stood for incoming calls only, and served as a reminder for Williams to not pick up that phone. Williams was to then dial *67 and then call the number back with the second phone.

In January 2011, law enforcement intercepted one of the packages being sent from Milan Thomas to Williams at a Juneau hotel. They conducted a controlled delivery which resulted in Williams’ arrest.

Williams’ arrest largely marked the end of the core group’s involvement in the conspiracy. As Herndon noted in her testimony, most everyone — prosecutors say about 30 to 40 people, from drug mules to dealers both in California and Juneau — had already been caught. To avoid further arrests at the airport, the group had planned on exclusively shipping the drugs via the mail system. Williams’ arrest foiled that plan.

Juneau Police Department James Quinto took to the witness stand and showed the jurors the pills that were seized from Williams’ hotel room. Quinto also testified he seized a red notebook from the room that contained Richard Corum’s address in it, as well as information such as bank account numbers used for money laundering.

Under cross-examination, Williams said his notebook also contained the contact information for his other relatives that were not involved in the conspiracy, including that of his mother and girlfriend.

The defense also rested on Friday, and Corum chose not to testify in his own defense. Offenbecher moved for a motion of acquittal, saying the government did not present enough evidence that a reasonable juror could convict him. Offenbecher also moved to have separate trials, one for the drug conspiracy and one for the tampering with a witness charge, which relates to Corum punching Milan Thomas as they were in custody at the Anchorage jail. (The defense says the punch was in self-defense.)

Judge Burgess denied both motions, saying there was “sufficient evidence” introduced that could lead a reasonable juror to convict Corum. He said the two charges were “inextricably intertwined” and could not be severed.

Closing arguments are scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday morning. The case can then go to the jury.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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