NY man denies plea deal for drug possession, gets convicted, returns to prison

Saturday February 2, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- A New York man who has already spent five years in prison and rejected a plea deal that would have allowed him to walk free is heading back to the same correctional facility after being convicted on Friday in Berkshire Superior Court for a second time.

After an appeals court reversed a 2008 drug conviction against James Stevens, 43, he was offered time served if he agreed to plead to simple cocaine possession. Insisting he was innocent, Stevens instead took the case to trial and lost.

The jury took an hour to convict Stevens on a single count of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute following a four-day trial.

On Tuesday, before jury selection began in the case, Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Marianne Shelvey told the court that she had offered Stevens the chance to plead guilty and walk away with time he’s served in jail, but he rejected the offer.

Judge Daniel A. Ford asked Stevens’ lawyer, Joseph P. Colonna, whether his client understood the risk he was taking by heading to trial.

Colonna said he had explained the situation to Stevens, but that he wanted a trial.

Stevens had already served about five years of a six- to 10-year sentence when the Appeals Court overturned his case in February 2012 because the drug evidence wasn’t tested by a state lab to confirm the presence of cocaine.

Police tested the drug evidence in the field and came up with a "presumptive" positive result. The Appeals Court found that was insufficient evidence to convict Stevens. By the second trial, the cocaine had been tested and came up positive.

According to Colonna, his client was on trial for "one-twelfth of a gram of cocaine found in a woman’s house, in her closet, in her pants’ pocket." Shelvey said Stevens was running a cocaine business from the Pittsfield home he was living in with his then-girlfriend.

Police said they found drug-dealing paraphernalia in the apartment and loose cocaine on top of a bureau and in dresser drawers.

The Berkshire County Drug Task Force raid on the Prospect Street house stemmed from two controlled drug buys with the defendant, according to Shelvey. Stevens was never charged in connection to the alleged drug sales.

On Friday, following the jury’s decision, Ford sentenced Stevens to at least six and no more than 6 1/2 years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction. Stevens will be credited with the time he has already served.

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