A felony drug case against a man accused of possessing oxycodone with intent to deliver was dismissed last week after a judge found the grand jury heard inadmissible hearsay evidence.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg ruled the remaining evidence against Deandre “Dre” Henry, 24, was “very weak” and the improper hearsay evidence was likely the decisive factor in the jurors decision to indict.
A grand jury indicted Henry back in March for misconduct involving a controlled substance in the second degree, a class ‘A’ felony that can be punishable by up to 20 years.
Prosecutors said a package containing 220 30 milligram oxycodone hydrochloride pills was sent from Pontiac, Mich., to a person at Gruening Park Apartments on Northwood Drive in Juneau.
The package had been identified as suspicious and intercepted by U.S. Postal Inspectors who said the name of the sender did not match the return address. Prosecutors said the pills had a street value of $22,000, or a $100 value for one pill.
The Gruening Park resident, identified in court documents as Antonio Osborne, claimed he was just a middleman and that the intended recipient was Henry. Osborne then agreed to help the FBI and the Juneau Police Department conduct a controlled delivery.
The package was delivered to Henry’s workplace, Aero Services, and police immediately arrested him. They found the package still unopened in his unzipped backpack.
In a hearing held in the case last month, District Attorney James Scott said a problem arose in the case: Osborne was called to testify against Henry at the grand jury, but when he was informed he could also be charged with a crime, he declined to cooperate further by giving testimony.
In the end, only one person testified against Henry, the Juneau police detective and drug investigator assigned to the case Brandon Lawrenson. (An 11-year veteran, Lawrenson has since left the JPD and now works for a police department in Marysville, Wash.)
At the grand jury, Lawrenson testified about Osborne’s knowledge and statements, including the incriminating claim that Henry was the “intended recipient” of the pills. Henry’s attorney Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland argued that was hearsay, which is an out of court statement offered for the truth of the matter and is inadmissible at grand jury.
“In the context of the grand jury proceeding, Mr. Henry’s receiving a package meant little unless the state establishes that he knew it was drugs and that he intended to distribute its contents,” Hedland wrote in a motion to dismiss. “The only evidence the state presented as tending to establish these facts came in through Osborne’s hearsay evidence.”
Scott, who received the case from his predecessor David Brower who retired earlier this summer, admitted that the evidence in the case was “thin” since Osborne chose not to testify, but that it should be adequate to support an indictment.
In his ruling, Pallenberg said that the strongest evidence before the grand jury “by far” was Osborne’s statements, improperly admitted through the police detective. Without that evidence, it’s unknown if the grand jury would have still indicted him.
But, the judge wrote, “The admission of Osborne’s statements spared the grand jury that struggle. The best description of the evidence is that Osborne’s statements likely formed the decisive factor in the grand jury’s decision to indict. Given that, I am compelled to dismiss the indictment.”
A status hearing in the case is scheduled to take place next week to determine how to proceed.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.