Drug trial of Flint man began Tuesday
L’ANSE – A Flint man faces up to life in prison depending on the outcome
of his trial in Baraga County Circuit Court.
The trial of Harvey Sanders Jr., 54, began Tuesday with testimony from Michigan State Police troopers who pulled Sanders over in a vehicle belonging to him in L’Anse in May.
Sanders was arrested for driving with a suspended license; a search of the vehicle later yielded cocaine and more than 200 pills. Police allege Sanders was coming to Calumet to sell drugs obtained in the Flint area.
Prosecutor Joseph O’Leary said it has to be proven Sanders possessed the controlled substances, intended to deliver them to another person and that the defendant knew they were controlled substances.
O’Leary said Sanders could be found guilty of either directly committing the crime or of aiding and abetting in the crime, which he said would yield the same sentence.
“Under our law, somebody who helps somebody else commit a crime is just as guilty of that crime as the person who did it,” he said.
Much of the testimony linking Sanders to the drugs will come from Justin Jinks, a Calumet native who O’Leary said had collected drugs with Sanders in the Flint area and came up to sell them. O’Leary said Sanders brought up Jinks’ dog during an earlier visit to Calumet, in exchange for which Jinks did favors for him.
“I’m going to tell you right now, Mr. Jinks is not the best witness in the world,” he said. “He’s an admitted drug dealer. That’s a fact. I can’t deny it. Of course, in these types of situations, it’s very rarely I’ve got a Boy Scout that can come up and tell us what happened in the middle of a drug transaction.”
In November, Jinks, 21, was sentenced to nine months with credit for 193 days served for possession of marijuana, and 193 days with credit for time served for attempted delivery-manufacture of cocaine.
O’Leary said in his opening statement he didn’t consider Jinks’ felony sentence a “sweetheart deal.” He can also bring charges again if Jinks is not truthful on the stand, he said.
Sanders’ attorney, David Gemignani, said the vast difference cast doubt on his testimony. Instead of potential 20-year felony charges, he said, Jinks would face only five, and could do as little as time served depending on
his testimony. Gemignani also questioned Jinks’ veracity based on an earlier plea deal that had to be revised after his first story didn’t hold up.
“The truth, to Jinks, is a relative thing, depending on if his ox is getting gored or not,” he said.
Gemignani said Jinks had been responsible for loading the drugs up in Flint; Sanders was not involved, he said.
“Mr. Sanders didn’t even know what was being loaded. He wasn’t looking there,” he said.
Officers who responded to the scene in May took the stand Tuesday. MSP Trooper Dieter Kochan said he saw a car driven by Sanders driving erratically, pulling out of a right-turn lane to downtown L’Anse and onto U.S. 41. After following the car, Kochan said, the car jumped the curb into the Citgo station lot, at which point he pulled them over. Kochan said both Sanders and Jinks appeared to be behaving unusually.
Kochan said Sanders had first claimed to be from Calumet; his actual hometown of Flint is one of three cities designated by the governor as high-crime areas (Detroit and Saginaw being the others). That made Kochan suspicious, he said. Under cross-examination, Kochan clarified that it was in tandem with Sanders’ earlier statement that he was from Calumet.
Officers searched the vehicle, and found a white envelope marked with the name of someone Jinks knew that police found tucked under a carpet in the trunk of Sanders’ car. The envelope contained about 200 pills.
Kochan said he had read Sanders his Miranda rights when he first got into Kochan’s vehicle, and again at the police interview in Marquette. They also discussed the investigation on the car ride home from Marquette.
“As an investigator, everything indicated that he wasn’t being truthful with us with regard to knowledge of the drugs in the vehicle … he was difficult to interview, because he had such a clear understanding of what the penalty was,” he said.
Kochan said while talking with Sanders about if he had known of any drugs in the car, Sanders told him the only indication was a comment from (Jinks) asking him if he wanted to do some “lines.” Sanders had not said he knew if there had been drugs in the car at the time, Kochan said.
Trooper Jason Rota, who transported Jinks to the jail, said he had also found a napkin with a phone number on it in his patrol car afterwards. The number corresponded to the medical center where there had been a dispatch for a well-being check for a person believed to have issues related to drug withdrawals.
The person is a co-owner of the vehicle Sanders was driving, O’Leary said. More cocaine was also found inside the napkin, Rota said.
Sanders’ fingerprints were not found on the envelope, Rota said during cross-examination. Neither were anyone else’s, he said during a redirect from O’Leary.
At the end of Tuesday’s session, Judge Charles Goodman ruled the jury would be able to hear testimony from Jinks that he and Sanders had previously transferred drugs from Flint to the Calumet area. Gemignani argued that including the information would violate protections barring evidence of other crimes from being introduced as evidence of character. However, Goodman said the previous acts can be included as evidence of a continuing series events, considering the two alleged acts involve the same people within a short time frame.
Sanders is charged with five 20-year felony counts of possessing less than 50 grams of a controlled substance with intent to deliver – one each for cocaine, morphine, hydromorphone, methadone and oxycodone. He also faces a seven-year felony charge of possession with intent to deliver dihydrocodeinone and four-year charges of possession with intent to deliver alprazolam and phenobarbital. A misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana was dismissed.
Because he has three or more prior offenses, Sanders is subject to life in prison if convicted of charges of five years or more. For offenses with lower maximum sentences, he could serve 15 years or less. Sanders was
previously convicted of a felony firearm charge and felony assault with intent to rob while armed in Flint in 1986, and felony escape from jail through violence and assault of a prison employee in Marquette in 2001.
The trial is scheduled to resume this morning with O’Leary’s redirect questioning of Kochan. Today is the last day scheduled for the trial.