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Mobtown Beat

Easy Street

Defendant in historic 41-kilo coke bust led cops to the drugs

A Corner House on Presstman Street in West Baltimore, where Trenell David Murphy was arrested.

By Van Smith | Posted 7/8/2009

On Feb. 20, the Baltimore Police Department hastily called a press conference to announce that, hours earlier, its officers had conducted the biggest cocaine seizure in the department's history. At the time, no details of the investigation were disclosed other than the amount of drugs--41 kilograms, or about 90 pounds. But within days, as the case was bumped to federal court, details emerged in the charging documents against the defendant, 33-year-old Trenell David Murphy ("Man Gets Federal Charges for Historic 40-Kilo Coke Bust Next to Kevin Liles Drive," Mobtown Beat, Feb. 23). What wasn't disclosed in those documents, though, was this: Murphy himself led the police to the drugs. The surprising detail came to light on June 30, during a court hearing in the case against Murphy.

"I had a conversation with Mr. Murphy," explained Baltimore Police Det. Craig Jester, who was in the witness stand before U.S. District Court chief judge Benson Everett Legg. "He told me, 'I have a spot up the street where I can take you to where there is 40 keys [kilograms] of cocaine.' . . . He accompanied us to the truck and said, 'It's in there, it's in the bed of the truck.'"

Jester said that the conversation occurred in and around 3041 Presstman St., in West Baltimore's Rosemont neighborhood, after police had raided the house using a warrant based on their observations of Murphy's suspected drug-dealing activities there. The house belongs to Murphy's mother. Jester said Murphy's rationale in taking this unusual step was to protect his mother from potential criminal charges.

The disclosure brought gasps of surprise from among Murphy's 20 or so friends and family members in the courtroom. They had gathered to watch Murphy's attorney, M. Gordon Tayback, attempt to persuade Legg that the police did not have sufficient probable cause to search the truck that night. If Tayback prevailed, then the cocaine found as a result of the search could not be used as evidence at trial, undermining the case against Murphy--unless assistant U.S. attorney Philip Jackson succeeded in convincing the judge the search was lawful.

Jester's testimony would seem to provide air-tight probable cause for the search of Murphy's truck. However, for reasons neither disclosed during the hearing nor explained by the U.S. Attorney's Office when City Paper asked about it later, the assertion that Murphy led police to the cocaine was not part of the case. Jester's story was only elicited by Jackson toward the end of the three-hour hearing, amid assurances that it could not be considered when Legg ruled on the probable-cause issue.

In the end, Legg sided with Jackson, ruling that the truck search was legal, without relying on Jester's testimony about Murphy's role in leading the police to the drugs it contained. Legg based his decision on the fact that police don't need a warrant to search a vehicle they know was used in a crime--in this case, police had observed Murphy discard from the truck a bag of trash, which was later found to contain drug-packaging materials coated with cocaine residue.

"In my view," Legg said, "the truck had been used to commit a crime," so "the police were entitled to seize it," thus they were "lawfully entitled to search it." Thus, Jackson's arguments won the day without relying on the fact that Murphy gave up the historic cocaine haul.

As to why Jester's story was excluded from the case, U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy would only say that "we use what we need, and we got what we needed out of the motions hearing."

Former federal prosecutor Steven Hale Levin, a criminal defense attorney, told City Paper that the "best explanation" for why a defendant's own properly obtained statement wouldn't be used in a case is because "the information came too late" in the discovery process to be included. "The prosecutor probably decided that, rather than risk being berated by a judge [for breaking discovery rules], he's not going to use it against the defendant."

After the hearing, Murphy's case was scheduled for rearraignment on Tuesday, July 7. On July 6, the Baltimore Sun reported that Tayback said Murphy planned to plead guilty. Tayback did not return City Paper's calls regarding the case.

Murphy stands to lose assets that authorities say are tied to his alleged drug-dealing activities. In addition to the more than $11,000 in cash seized from Murphy during the February raid, two West Baltimore properties--1134 N. Monroe St. and 1821 Mosher St.--that are owned by Murphy's business, Up In Coming Realty LLC, were targeted in May for federal forfeiture. Also, state prosecutors in April filed forfeiture proceedings against three vehicles tied to Murphy.

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