Mississippi man gets 10-year prison sentence for transporting cocaine through Arkansas

A Mississippi man convicted by a jury last month of transporting cocaine through the state in 2018 was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday by a federal judge who agreed to sentence the wheelchair-bound man to the mandatory minimum sentence contained in the federal statute.

Tommy Collier, 42, of Greenville, was stopped by Arkansas State Police on Sept. 11, 2018, after the vehicle he was driving — a gray Chevrolet Malibu rented in Las Vegas — reportedly ran onto the right-hand shoulder of Interstate 40 near Lonoke and was pulled over by Arkansas State Police Trooper Travis May. During a search of the vehicle, May discovered about 22 pounds of cocaine packaged in 10 1-kilogram bricks in Collier’s rental car. Collier had initially told May he had stopped the previous night in Little Rock to look at truck tires and was headed to Tennessee to another tire shop but he was arrested after an officer brought his police dog to the location and alerted to the presence of drugs in the car.

During Collier’s two-day trial in early August before Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr., a chemist with the Arkansas State Crime Lab testified that the cocaine taken from Collier’s car tested at close to 100% purity.

“All of it is cocaine hydrochloride,” Senior Forensic Chemist Dan Hedges said during his testimony Aug. 2. “I didn’t detect any cutting agents.”

Testifying in his own defense during the trial, Collier admitted to a jury that he had lied to police about his travels during the traffic stop, saying he had gone to Las Vegas, Nev., for a bachelor party and discovered the drugs in the trunk of his rental car during a stop to change a wound dressing in Little Rock not long before he was stopped. He had testified at trial that before he left Las Vegas, he had stopped at another family member’s home to take a nap and when he awoke, his rental car was sitting in a different spot than where he had parked it when he arrived.

Confined to a wheelchair since 2015 due to a motorcycle accident, Collier testified that a pressure wound on his back requiring a heavy dressing had begun to get infected and that when he opened the trunk of the rental car to get his medical supplies, he found the drugs in two unfamiliar bags.

In less than 90 minutes, a jury of seven men and five women returned its verdict of guilty.

On Monday, Marshal calculated Collier’s sentencing range under U.S. sentencing guidelines at 120 to 135 months in prison.

Collier’s wife, Ebony Collier, told Marshall that her husband had not been receiving proper medical care while housed at the Pulaski County jail since his trial.

“He tells me he is in constant pain,” she said. “He has nerve pain where you can’t touch him. His shirt can’t touch him.” Due to his injuries, Ebony Collier said, her husband’s body is unable to regulate his body temperature and that if he gets cold a heating pad is required to get his body temperature back to normal. She said he is also unusually susceptible to infections and requires antibiotics twice daily to ward off such infections.

“If he doesn’t get them he can become septic,” she said. “If he tells them he has an infection to where he’s hurting or he doesn’t feel good, they need to listen.” Collier’s attorney, Chris Baker of Little Rock, echoed those concerns and asked for some consideration to be given Collier due to his health problems and his role in the offense, but acknowledged that the amount of drugs involved would likely put limits on how much consideration Marshall could legally give his client.

“But for the mandatory minimum,” Baker said, “I think there would be fairly reasonable argument … that this appears to be more of a mule situation, which in general, those offenses result in less culpability in sentencing … than actual furtherance of a drug conspiracy.” Baker asked Marshall to consider sentencing Collier to the mandatory minimum 10 years in prison, “if not potentially a variance in consideration of participation but also Mr. Collier’s condition,” saying that regardless of what sentence Collier received, he would be unlikely to repeat the offense.

Baker also said, if not for a prior conviction in Mississippi as an accessory to robbery, “this case would have been eligible for the safety valve and we may have been looking at a different situation.” The attorney also suggested home incarceration as an alternative to prison, citing the high cost of Collier’s medical care and the difficulty of obtaining proper care for his numerous medical issues in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie Goss Dempsey, who served as co-counsel to Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Onassis Walker during Collier’s trial, said the mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence would be sufficient to address the sentencing factors established by Congress.

“The law is clear that 120 months is the minimum I can impose given the circumstances and the quantity of drugs,” Marshall said. “I understand your family is concerned about your health … The marshals assure me you are being cared for. I know it’s not perfect but we have to work within the framework we have.” Marshall said he would instruct the U.S. Marshals Service to expedite Collier’s placement in a Bureau of Prisons facility with appropriate medical facilities, although he cautioned that a looming government shutdown could happen if Congress fails to pass a budget or spending resolution by Oct. 1 could impact that.

“But the government’s got money through this week,” he said, “and I’m going to do my best to get this judgment in today or tomorrow so the wheels can start turning.”

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