Howard convicted on drug trafficking charges

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By Sharon Graves

In a marathon court session Thursday lasting nearly 14 hours, Donald Howard, 54, was convicted on four counts of trafficking in a controlled substance.

After convicting Howard, the jury recommended a sentence of 40 years. He was taken into custody immediately and lodged in the Carroll County Detention Center.

The Kentucky State Police and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department arrested Howard Dec. 4, 2008 on trafficking charges after a five-month investigation. He was indicted on two separate occasions resulting in the four charges, all class C felonies.

Maximum sentences included five to 10 years in the penitentiary and fines from $1,000 to $10,000 on each count. The jury’s recommendation was for Howard to serve four 10-year sentences to run consecutively. Howard will be eligible for parole in eight years if Judge Stephen Bates accepts their recommendation during a sentencing hearing scheduled for Monday June 1.

The trial itself began with jury selection at 8:30 a.m. culminating in the sentencing phase at 10:15 p.m.  Commonwealth Attorney Jim Crawford and his team of Josh Smith and Leigh Ann Roberts worked to provide the jury meticulous detail during the trial with phone and bank records, photographs, and digital recordings.

It took the jury less than 10 minutes to elect a jury foreman and convict Howard.

Testimony presented during the trial by the prosecution alleged Howard sold his own medication, sold medication that belonged to another man in Carroll County, and worked with an accomplice to sell drugs for him.  

Kentucky State Police Detective David Roberts testified that Howard’s name kept surfacing during a year-long investigation of drug trafficking in the county by state police and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department.

The indictments specifically said that Howard trafficked in two drugs, oxymorphone and oxycodone on four separate occasions. Evidence presented showed Howard did have a prescription for Opana 40 milligram ER but not for the oxycodone.  

Roberts was on the witness stand for hours as he explained every detail of the case to the jury.  He said Howard had been injured in an accident at Dow Corning in 2002 and has been going to the Murphy Pain Clinic near Louisville since then getting prescriptions for the addictive pain killer, Opana, the brand name for oxymorphone.

Roberts explained that using the KASPER system of tracking drug purchases in the state, he was able to determine that Howard had the only prescription for 40 milligram time release oxymorphone in the county for over a year.  He also explained that 40 mg oxymorphone is the highest strength on the market and drug abusers like the time released drugs, because they crush them up and snort them, getting the full effect of the time released drug in one shot.

The indictments against Howard involve one drug sale on Aug. 1, two on Aug. 7, and one on Nov. 23, 2008.  Roberts testified that he had medical records from the pain clinic and bank statements showing cash deposits of $8,400 during 2008, coinciding with dates Howard received his prescriptions.

Crawford introduced nearly 30 pieces of evidence showing when Howard went to the clinic, accompanied by Natasha King, what prescriptions he was given and when he had them filled at Rite-Aid in Carrollton.  He produced taped conversations between King, and confidential informant Steven Hanlon, as well as photographs of her getting in and out of Hanlon’s car for the drug buy in the Sav-A-Lot parking lot on Highway 227. Crawford also had bank statements documenting Howard deposited $800 cash in his checking account 15 minutes after the drug deal where King sold Hanlon 20 Opana 40mg ER for $800 cash.  

Roberts said he has paid some confidential informants as part of the investigation, noting some have their own issues with the law and are trying to work a deal for any consideration in their own cases. Hanlon is currently in the Carroll County Detention Center on heroin trafficking charges, but Crawford said he had not promised Hanlon or any of the other witnesses for the prosecution any deal.

King has already pleaded guilty to three counts of trafficking in a controlled substance and agreed to testify truthfully as part of her plea agreement.  Records indicate that assistant prosecutor Josh Smith said at King’s plea hearing that she would do jail time and no exact reduction in her sentence was given.  

Seven days later Hanlon contacted King to purchase more Opana, according to Roberts, but was told Howard’s one month supply had been exhausted in one week.  Hanlon then tried to buy anything King had to sell.  

Roberts testified that’s when Donald Simmons’ name came up.  Simmons, 72, is a veteran who goes to the Veteran’s Administration hospital on Zorn Avenue for various medical conditions and is prescribed 90 oxycodone 80 mg time release tablets per month and is supposed to take three per day for pain from an injury and an illness.

Simmons testified for the prosecution that he kept 60 tablets, Howard took 30 tablets, arranged for their sale and they split the $2,400.

The same type of evidence with exact timelines was presented by Crawford and Roberts allowing the jury to see where the drugs came from, who bought and sold them and where the money went.

Records show that the drugs were delivered to Simmon’s home at 9:03 a.m. on Aug. 7.  Phone records show that a call was placed from Simmons to Howard at 9:42 a.m. and lasted for 46 seconds.  At 12:39 p.m., a second call was made from Howard to Simmons following two drug transactions between King and Hanlon and King and Brooke Hanlon, Steve’s wife.  Bank records show that $1,000 in cash was deposited in Simmons account within 24 hours of the two drug buys.

Simmons’ testimony never came under any scrutiny from the defense.

The grand jury secretly indicted about 30 individuals from Carroll County Nov. 3 as part of the large group of 68 caught up in the drug raid executed November 13 in four counties covered by Post 5 of KSP.  King and Howard were both indicted at that time for trafficking in a controlled substance.  Neither was picked up Nov. 13. King was approached by Roberts Nov. 21 and told about the case against her and asked if she wanted to cooperate and try to make a buy from Donald Howard.  

On Nov. 23, King called Howard and asked if she could buy two oxymorphone 40 mg ER from him and he said he couldn’t sell any because his pill count wasn’t right, according to Roberts’ testimony.  Roberts said that Howard meant that he didn’t have enough medication in his bottle to match up with the dates and his prescribed usage.  Howard said he would be able to sell one pill Nov. 26 for $40.

King told the court she tried again Dec. 3 to purchase more drugs from Howard, but that attempt failed.

Howard was arrested Dec. 4 by Roberts and Sheriff Ben Smith. In a search of his house, Roberts testified that an empty bottle of Opana 40 mg ER was found. According to the dates on the bottle, there should have been 28 tablets in the bottle when it was found, he told the court.

Another recording was played for the jury and this time it was an interview between Roberts, Smith and Howard. Howard confessed to selling one or two pills to supplement his income.  “Travis, [Howard’s son] doesn’t have a job, Tommy [another son] is between jobs.  There’s always something that comes up that you’re not expecting and you got to get the money someplace. It’s not an excuse it’s just a fact,” Howard explained on the recording.

“I’m not here to beat you up,” Roberts said on the tape.  “But we’ve have two deaths in Carrollton from oxymorphone intoxication, but I’m not here to say they got them from Donald Howard.”

Howard acknowledged Roberts’ statement on the recording.  

Howard admitted that he did have someone else who sold drugs for him because he didn’t want to take the chance of getting caught.

Mike Lions, Howard’s attorney presented several witnesses for the defense,  Tommy Howard, Donald’s son, Ashley Ross and Olga Horine, girlfriends from each of Howard’s sons who also live in Donald’s house and Caleb King, Natasha King’s brother, among others.  Each said that they had never seen Howard use or sell drugs.  

Tommy Howard said there were a lot of people in an out of the house they all lived in and things came up missing all the time.  

Caleb King said that his sister Natasha had two children and he thought she would say anything to get out and get her children back.

Lions told the jury in his closing that this case was based strictly on circumstantial evidence and there was nothing linking his client to the sale of drugs.

Witnesses, both those for the prosecution and the defense, were either in jail on drug charges or admitted to using drugs. Crawford told the court this was one of the most pitiful groups of drug addicted witnesses he had ever seen.