Judge Collins orders drug trial forward

Williams' attorney says he's going to file an appeal of the decision

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008

The judge in one of the city's largest recent drug cases ordered the trial to continue Thursday after lawyers for Vonnie Williams and Aaron Washington argued for a mistrial, saying the trial had "broken down."

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins said she wanted to keep the trial moving after sending the jury home early for two straight days while she settled debates concerning witnesses' immunity.

Collins ruled that she will not throw out any of the multiple drug charges against Williams and Washington or declare a mistrial because the state has refused to grant immunity to the defense's witnesses.

"Both sides should have the right to seek review of anything I do, but I need to keep this moving," Collins said. "I intend to see it through to its conclusion."

In addition to the multiple drug charges, Williams and Washington are charged with being leaders of a drug smuggling and dealing enterprise. If convicted they could be sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Their lawyers have argued that their clients were severe drug addicts who weren't leaders of a drug business but one of many players in Juneau's drug world.

They said witnesses for the defense should be granted some measure of immunity for their testimony - similar to the deals prosecutor Doug Gardner arranged for many of his witnesses.

After the attorney general's office denied immunity to the defense witnesses, Williams' and Washington's lawyers asked that a number of charges against their clients be dismissed, saying the testimony would have contradicted some of the claims made by the state's witnesses and shown that there were others in town who controlled the cocaine trade.

In denying their request, Collins said the defense witnesses she interviewed in private on Wednesday wouldn't have provided testimony that merited throwing any charges out.

Williams' attorney, Thomas Schulz, said he was going to file an appeal seeking to reverse Collins' decision.

He said he'd already told the jury that he would be calling witnesses who would refute some of the damning testimony they've heard about his client. He said he couldn't in good conscience call on his planned witnesses to testify if it meant they might give self-incriminating evidence. But he added that without that testimony he didn't have much of a case.

"I've hung my client out to dry," Schulz said.

Juneau District Attorney Doug Gardner said the defense had months to prepare its case and shouldn't have counted on having its witnesses voluntarily give up their rights to give self-incriminating evidence.

The trial was scheduled to resume today.

• Contact reporter AlanSuderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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