Key witness testifies in drug case

Jury listens to recorded conversation between informant, alleged cocaine dealer

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The state's key witness took the stand Tuesday in the trial of Aaron Washington, who authorities say is a kingpin of Juneau's drug trade and dealt drugs to a confidential police informant.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

That informant, Geralyn "Sue" Dougherty, 41, told jurors that she is addicted to drugs and was testifying in the trial in return for spending less time in jail. Jurors then listened to a conversation she said she had with Washington last year while she was wearing a secret recording device and in which he gave her seven small bags of cocaine to sell.

The day came to a close before Dougherty finished giving her testimony, which she is scheduled to continue again today.

Tuesday was the second day in the trial of Washington, who is also scheduled to appear in court in September on charges that he and co-defendant Vonnie Williams ran a criminal enterprise that imported pounds of cocaine into Juneau since 2003.

Dougherty said she was serving a four-year sentence for drug charges and that she was expecting to get at least six months shaved off her jail time in return for her cooperation in the case. She also is expected to testify in the September trial of Washington and Williams.

"I'm an addict," Dougherty said, while clad in prison-issued orange clothes, adding that she first used crack cocaine when she was 19.

During the trial Tuesday, Juneau District Attorney Doug Gardner played a tape of a conversation Dougherty said occurred at Washington's house in March 2007. She said she wore a secret microphone, or a wire, provided to her by police.

According to Dougherty, she went over to Washington's apartment and gave him $400 as part of some money she owed him. He then gave her seven grams of cocaine with the expectation that she would sell the drugs and return $700 to him, she said.

During the recording, the man Dougherty said was Washington can be heard saying, "I want seven back." Dougherty told jurors he made the statement after handing her the cocaine.

Washington's attorney, William Carey, described Dougherty during his opening statements as a dishonest individual whose credibility the jury should not trust.

"This is the person whose credibility makes this case rise and fall for the state," Carey said.

Washington, 42, was a legitimate businessman who previously owned clothing stores in New York and Fan Fashion in Juneau, Carey said.

Dougherty told jurors that she and Washington took a trip to New York City in the month prior to their March encounter. She said they smuggled 18 ounces of cocaine, which has an estimated street value of $72,000, back to Juneau during that trip.

In his opening statements, Carey said Washington went to New York solely to buy clothes for his store.

Dougherty also told jurors that her nickname for Washington, who is African-American, was "Black." And her code phrase to signal police if there were any problems during her conversation with Washington was: "Jimmy isn't going to like this."

The trial took an hour-long detour when Juneau Empire crime reporter Greg Skinner was called to testify about an interview he'd had with Washington in prison several weeks ago, which Skinner wrote about in a story published on Monday.

Gardner's office issued a subpoena for Skinner and his notes. The prosecutor said the reporter's testimony was necessary because he was the only one who'd interviewed Washington since his arrest.

Lawyers for Skinner and the Empire argued that Skinner should not have to testify because he was protected under state law from revealing sources in court. But Judge Philip Pallenberg said the state's reporter shield law only applied to confidential sources. Furthermore, it could be inferred from Skinner's article that Washington had made self-incriminating statements during their interview, Pallenberg said.

Skinner testified without the jury present.

Skinner, who was wearing a T-shirt that had a copy of the free speech clause in the Alaska Constitution emblazoned on the front and the words, "Bad Prosecutor, No Donut" and a picture of a donut on the back, told prosecutor Gardner that Washington had not confessed or admitted any guilt regarding his cases.

Skinner was dismissed and told that he would not have to testify before the jury, which took a full day and half to impanel.

During the jury selection, Gardner asked potential jurors what they thought about police using confidential informants who may have a criminal record and using undisclosed recording equipment to gather information.

Most potential jurors said they did not have a problem with confidential informants or secret recordings, with a few exceptions.

Carey asked potential jurors if they would be able to presume his client's innocence. Most potential jurors said they could.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail

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