Osceola Man Found Guilty of Meth Distribution Following First Trial in Operation Blynd Justus
LITTLE ROCK—Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and David Shepard, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced today that a federal jury found James Edward Watson, Jr., 30, of Osceola, guilty of distribution of methamphetamine following a two-day trial. Due to the nature of the charge and his past criminal history, Watson will serve a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.
Following approximately 20 minutes of deliberation the jury returned its verdict to Chief United States District Judge Brian Miller on Tuesday, September 13. Judge Miller will sentence Watson at a later date.
Watson was the first defendant indicted in Operation Blynd Justus to go to federal trial. On August 11, 2015, Watson and 69 other defendants were arrested in a wide-sweeping roundup in Northeast Arkansas as part of a major operation aimed at curbing drug trafficking and gun violence in Blytheville and Mississippi County. Blynd Justus targeted violent and repeat drug and gun offenders and resulted in 40 separate federal indictments. Following the initial roundup, four additional defendants have been indicted on drug charges in the overall case, and federal law enforcement remains active in the area.
"A coordinated effort from multiple law enforcement agencies successfully removed dozens of violent and dangerous drug dealers from the streets of Mississippi County 13 months ago, but the work of protecting these communities continues," Thyer said. "Mr. Watson was a repeat offender who had committed violent acts in the past. Just as the other defendants arrested in Blynd Justus will learn, Mr. Watson now knows that his criminal actions only led to prison time."
"Our resolve has not faltered in our efforts to disrupt violent gang activity and dismantle illegal sales of firearms and drugs in our state," Assistant Special Agent in Charge Shepard said. "We are determined to fight for our community and work hand-in-hand with federal, state and local agencies to achieve this goal."
Watson is a convicted felon who on August 29, 2014, sold three ounces of methamphetamine (approximately 84 grams) to a confidential informant for $3,000. Watson met the informant in Blytheville to purchase and then sell the methamphetamine. Additionally, as detailed in the trial, Watson sold the informant four ounces of counterfeit methamphetamine in a separate transaction in September 2014. The jury found that Watson sold more than 5 grams of actual methamphetamine in the August 29th transaction.
The statutory penalty for distribution of more than 5 grams of actual methamphetamine, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), with an enhancement for being previously convicted of a drug felony, is not less than 10 years and not more than life, not more than an $8 million fine, or both, and not less than 8 years of supervised release. Watson’s actual sentence will be determined at a later date.
While Watson is the first defendant indicted in the Blynd Justus operation to go to trial, he is not the first defendant to be convicted. To date, 25 defendants have pleaded guilty. Eight have been sentenced—all to prison time (including James Walton–120 months, Markese Durden–120 months, John Franklin–87 months, Darius Goodman–87 months, Juan Pineda–60 months, Dexter Anderson–48 months, Jarvis Reed–30 months, and Harmanjeet Khatrao–5 months). The others who pleaded guilty are awaiting sentencing. Another three defendants (Derrick Palmore, Andrew Armstrong, and Vincent Talley) are scheduled to change their pleas to guilty on September 16, 2016. The remaining defendants have trials scheduled.
Northeast Arkansas saw an immediate impact as a result of Blynd Justus. According to Blytheville Police Chief Ross Thompson, violent crime went down in six key areas charted by law enforcement. In the six months following the August 2015 takedown Blytheville saw incidents of aggravated assault, robbery, larceny, motor vehicle theft, rape, and murder all decrease as compared to the six months prior, in some cases dramatically. There were seven homicides in Blytheville in the six months prior to Blynd Justus. Following the takedown, there were zero murders in the next seven months.
"The goal of Blynd Justus was to help an ailing community combat drugs and violence, remove dangerous people from the streets, and help the great citizens of Northeast Arkansas sleep a little easier at night," Thyer said. "While we will never eradicate all crime, Blynd Justus serves as a continuing reminder to criminals that you will spend time in prison if you choose to poison and terrorize these communities."
Assistant United States Attorney Benecia Moore prosecuted the case against Watson. The overall Blynd Justus investigation was conducted by the FBI, in partnership with the 2nd Judicial District Drug Task Force, which includes officers from the Blytheville Police Department, the Osceola Police Department and the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office. The 40 indictments are being prosecuted by a team of multiple Assistant United States Attorneys.