Drug dealer found guilty

Wanda English Burnett

It took a jury less than an hour to convict Steven L. Cotton, 39 of University Park, IL, on a felony drug charge that could land him in prison for up to 50 years.

According to information from Ripley County Prosecutor Ric Hertel, Cotton was found guilty of Possession with Intent to Deliver Heroin in Excess of Three Grams, which is a Class A Felony.

Testimony heard at the two-day trial held in Ripley County Circuit Court, stated that Cotton had 98.6 grams of heroin that has a street value of about $10,000, when he was stopped in May of this year for a minor traffic infraction by ISP Trooper Jim Wells.

Further investigation revealed four baggies of a brown rock-like substance - which was confirmed as being heroin. The state police laboratory presented evidence at the trial from a forensic scientist who weighed and tested the substance in the baggies, confirming the presence of heroin and that it weighed 98.6 grams. Evidence was presented at the trial that Cotton was returning to the Chicago area from Newport, KY, where he had already sold about 50 grams of heroin. The initial arrest took place May 25, 2009.

Although Cotton’s attorney argued that his client was merely in possession of the heroin and was not intending to deliver it, the jury believed testimony from an undercover detective. He said separate baggies is not consistent with personal use but more consistent with dealing the drug. The detective went on to say that the large quantity was not consistent with personal use either, and was more consistent with dealing. The detective’s testimony was based on over 500 undercover buys in the 12 plus years he has been with the Indiana State Police in this capacity.

The investigation that began as a routine traffic stop was taken to a new level that produced evidence at the trial, which was not attended by Cotton. For only the second time in his 11 years as Prosecuting Attorney for Ripley County, Ric Hertel tried the defendant In Absentia - meaning he was not present for any of the trial.

According to Prosecutor Hertel, Cotton had been released earlier in December pursuant to a criminal rule that requires incarcerated defendants be brought to trial within 180 days. The court had originally scheduled Cotton’s trial outside of this time frame. In the June 4, 2009 issue of The Versailles Republican it noted the trial had been set for December 15. While this has not been a past problem for the court, the prosecutor said, “it is still concerning.”

The prosecutor asked and was granted a warrant to be issued for Cotton’s failure to appear.

Hertel implored the jury to not take the easy way out, but rather to convict the defendant of the serious offense of possession with intent to deliver rather than the defense’s plea that his client was merely in possession. “Decisions like this are difficult,” the prosecutor noted, thanking the jury for their service especially taking time away from their lives during this busy time of the year. “Without the willingness of jurors like these to give of their time, the criminal justice system would fail,” he noted.

No sentencing date has been set by the court, but Cotton faces a range of imprisonment of 20-50 years on the conviction.