Three defendants who appeared in Jones County Superior Court last week had a couple of things in common: they were all asking for bond for charges involving drug trafficking, and their bonds were all denied.
The June 18 court proceedings were accomplished using the Zoom platform.
Brandy Jo Ortiz, 37, was arrested Jan. 15 and charged with trafficking in cocaine, illegal drugs marijuana or methamphetamine. Alfredo David Gutierrez, 20, was arrested Feb. 2 and charged with trafficking in cocaine, illegal drugs or marijuana penalties, and John Allen Harrison, 37, was arrested May 26 and charged with VGCSA possession meth with intent to distribute and VGCSA conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine.
Harrison was the most recently arrested and the only one of the three not arrested before the pandemic shutdown of the court. He was represented in the case by defense attorney Keri Foster Thompson.
Thompson asked for a reasonable bond for her client, stating that he maintained his innocence of the charges. She said he was employed at the time of his arrest and had a job waiting upon his release.
The attorney said Harrison is a resident of Milledgeville and has substantial ties to the community. She said he is not a flight risk, and although he has prior convictions, there is no reason to believe he will reoffend.
Thompson said Harrison’s codefendant is a distant relative, and she believes the evidence will show the codefendant is responsible for the drugs.
The case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Dawn Baskin. She told the court that, in her opinion, Harrison fails all bond consideration requirements. She said his criminal history spans 14 cycles, including a 2010 conviction for possession of meth and a firearm, for which he was sentenced to seven years.
Baskin said he violated his probation on multiple occasions, and he was heard in phone calls from the jail attempting to get his codefendant to take responsibility for the crime.
“But I can tell the court he is not accepting responsibility,” she said.
The prosecutor said she believes Harrison is a risk to intimidate witnesses.
Thompson said her client was not a danger to anyone. She said he was trying to contact the codefendant in the case, but she heard no threat of violence. She said she thought her client was a good candidate for bond and would agree to any conditions required by the court.
Superior Court Judge Alison Burleson presided over the case and said, based on what she heard, she agreed Harrison was not a flight risk, but because of his criminal history and calls from the jail, she did think he was a risk to attempt to influence witnesses. She denied bond.
Gutierrez was represented by defense attorney Harold McLendon, and Baskin prosecuted the case. She told the court that Gutierrez came to Jones County Feb. 3 because of a drug buy set up to a confidential informant.
The prosecutor said the defendant had five kilos of methamphetamine and a juvenile with him when he arrived in Jones County. She said a weapon, a semi-automatic pistol, was also found in his vehicle.
Baskin said the grand jury was delayed because of the judicial shutdown, but the case was ready. She said Gutierrez asked for a bond before Chief Judge William Prior April 9, and it was denied. The grounds for Prior’s denial was he found the defendant was a flight risk and a danger to the community.
McLendon said Gutierrez is 20 years old and from Texas. He said the defendant’s family moved to Gwinnett County, and he still has family there. The attorney said his client started working construction when he was in the ninth grade.
He said Gutierrez had no prior record, and he had been in custody for 136 days. McLendon asked the court for a reasonable bond.
Baskin said Gutierrez’s charges put him at the top tier for trafficking, which carries a sentence of 25 years.
“It’s unfortunate he’s so young, but this is not a situation where he is barely over the 28 grams required for the charge of trafficking,” she said.
The prosecutor said Gutierrez has no ties to Jones County, and nothing would prevent him from leaving when facing that high of a penalty.
“He’s a serious risk of flight, was known by the CI and brought five kilos of meth into Jones County,” Baskin said. “It’s the largest drug bust to date.”
McLendon said he understood the charges are serious, but bond is sometimes even allowed for those charged with murder. He said his client would agree to any restrictions.
Burleson said, based on what she heard, the previous reasons for denial were sound.
“He is a significant risk to persons and property in the community and a risk to commit a new felony,” she said. “Bond is denied.”
Ortiz was the first defendant to come before the court June 18 seeking bond. She was represented by defense attorney F. Michael Starosto. Baskin was the prosecutor, and she styled the case for the court.
She said Ortiz was arrested Jan. 15 in possession of 1,971.85 grams of meth, which places her in the top tier for trafficking. Baskin said the state was opposed to bond.
Starosto said his client understood the seriousness of the allegations, and her children had been removed because of the charges. He said Ortiz had been cooperative with law enforcement and given them information.
“She’s not a danger to the community,” he said. “These are nonviolent charges.”
The attorney said his client is not a flight risk and had been in custody since Jan. 15. He added that there was no end in sight to the judicial emergency and he asked the court to take that under consideration.
Burleson asked about Ortiz’s ties to the community. Starosto said she was a resident of Bartow County and would like to go back there to regain custody of her children. He said she has a place to live and her children are there.
Baskin said, with the top tier trafficking charge, the defendant faces a sentence of 25 years with a minimum of 12.5 years to serve. She said Ortiz did have a long-term relationship, but when she was arrested, she was living with another man in Cobb County.
The prosecutor said Ortiz is a convicted felon with a criminal history that spans nine cycles. She said her arrests include aggravated assault, burglary and possession of marijuana.
Baskin said she plans to call the grand jury Aug. 3. She said Ortiz had no ties to this community, and the severity of the charges make her a risk of flight.
“I think she is a risk to commit new crimes. Her children didn’t prevent her from committing this crime,” she said.
Baskin said a CI provided information to law enforcement to set up the purchase, and Ortiz drove here with two kilos of meth.
Starosto said the state intends to indict his client Aug. 3, but there is not indication that will happen.
Burleson said, based on what she had heard, the problem is they are dealing with a serious offense because of the large amount of drugs brought into Jones County. She said bond was denied.
“I find she is a risk to the community and a risk to commit a new felony,” the judge said.
After denying bond for each of the defendants, Burleson advised the attorneys they should feel free to bring their bond requests back to the court at a later date.