BY KEN LITTLE
The trial of former Greeneville pharmacist Robert D. McNeese, charged with distributing oxycodone to a group of men who allegedly used extortion to get the drug from him, has been rescheduled to Dec. 20.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Dennis H. Inman recently set the new trial date in response to motions filed by McNeese defense lawyer John T. Milburn Rogers.
Inman granted the continuance because of Rogers' recent health problems, and also because of the filing by the government of a superseding indictment that adds "four new substantive counts" alleged against McNeese.
Inman granted a previous continuance at Rogers' request because of health concerns. In a motion filed last month, the prominent Greeneville lawyer again cited "serious health problems" in asking for another continuance, Inman's order states.
Rogers also said in a motion that he needs more time to review the new charges against McNeese, a former employee of Corley's Pharmacy who was indicted on the original set of charges in February.
McNeese, 38, of Afton, has not worked at Corley's Pharmacy since July 2011, when owner Alan Corley discovered missing inventory.
McNeese had been a pharmacist at the business since 1999 and became a co-owner in 2004. He has no current connection to the pharmacy
He remains free on bond. He entered not guilty pleas to the drug conspiracy offense and another charge of intentionally omitting material information from reports, records and documents relating to required documentation of controlled substances.
Those charges were filed in connection with the indictment handed up in February.
The superseding indictment filed on Sept. 11 includes four additional charges against McNeese alleging unauthorized distribution of a controlled substance.
BACKUP LAWYER NAMED
McNeese is "quite emphatic" in his desire to have Rogers stay on as his lawyer, Inman wrote in a Sept. 21 order granting the continuance.
"After noting that the defendant wished for Mr. Rogers to continue in his representation of him, the court granted that first motion to continue," Inman wrote.
"However, the court pointed out in that order that there is a limit to the continuances this court could safely grant to a defendant based on the medical condition of the defendant's attorney, and that such continuances could not be of indefinite duration. That time has arrived."
Rogers has arranged for Knoxville attorney Ann Short "to serve as backup counsel in the event Mr. Rogers is unable to try the case when scheduled," Inman wrote in the order.
Short is now listed as co-counsel for McNeese.
Inman made it clear he means to proceed with the Dec. 20 trial date.
"No motion for a continuance based upon attorney Short's lack of preparation, or based upon a scheduling conflict, will be entertained," the judge wrote.
If McNeese enters into a plea agreement before trial, the deadline for the agreement must be filed by Dec. 6, Inman wrote in the order.
Rogers, who strongly maintains the innocence of McNeese, has said a plea agreement between his client and prosecutor D. Wayne Taylor is unlikely.
There are five co-defendants in the case. All have entered into plea agreements with the government.
The last co-defendant to do so was George Eugene Copas, who entered a guilty plea to one count of the first indictment on Sept. 26.
Like co-defendants Chucky Joe Copas, Jimmy Lee Hodges, Terry Lee Scalf and Scottie Wayne Leach, George Copas entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute a quantity of oxycodone, and possession with the intent to distribute the oxycodone.
Oxycodone is a narcotic and a Schedule II controlled substance.
George Copas will be sentenced on April 15, 2013, by U.S. District Court Judge J. Ronnie Greer. Chucky Joe Copas will be sentenced Dec. 10. Hodges will be sentenced Dec. 5. Leach and Scalf will be sentenced on Oct. 22.
For cooperating with prosecutors, the sentencing range of the five McNeese co-defendants will be lowered, and they will apparently not be prosecuted on the extortion charge.
McNeese's trial was scheduled to begin on Nov. 6.
The co-defendants in the case were charged in February with the intent to "obstruct, delay and affect" commerce and "the movement of articles and commodities in commerce by extortion" in connection with their interactions with McNeese.
The February indictment of the six men said that McNeese supplied a quantity of oxycodone from the pharmacy after being induced to do so "by the wrongful use of fear, including fear of economic loss," by the five co-defendants.
The alleged offenses connected to the first count charging oxycodone distribution were committed from July 2010 until July 28, 2011, according to the indictment naming McNeese and the other defendants.
The four additional distribution/conspiracy charges in the superseding indictment naming McNeese allege that he distributed a quantity of oxycodone on dates in February, June and July 2011.
OTHER CHARGES NOT PURSUED
George Copas, Chucky Copas, Hodges, Scalf and Leach are all named in the superseding indictment.
Additional charges were not filed against Chucky Copas, Hodges, Scalf and Leach, who all entered plea agreements earlier this year.
Additional charges against George Copas included in the superseding indictment will apparently not be pursued following his plea Sept. 26 to the distribution/conspiracy charge included in the first indictment.
In court documents supporting the guilty plea earlier this year of Chucky Copas to the drug distribution/conspiracy charge, Copas agreed that between July 2010 and July 28, 2011, he conspired with at least one other person to distribute 9,400 oxycodone pills.
According to Copas' plea agreement, McNeese "illegally distributed these pills to [Copas] and other individuals in the area," including the other defendants in the case.
SELF CASE CONTINUED
Rogers recently cited health issues in requesting and receiving a continuation in the Ethan Self trial in Greene County Criminal Court.
Self, 19, was charged in March 2010 with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of his father, Greeneville police Sgt. Roger Self.
Judge John F. Dugger Jr. granted Rogers' motion in September and continued Self's trial date to Jan. 14, 2013. The trial had been scheduled to begin on Sept. 17 after being continued from a May date.