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, will begin on Nov. 6.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Dennis H. Inman set the new trial date at a motion hearing held Friday in federal court in Greeneville.
Meanwhile, two of the other defendants in the case entered guilty pleas last week to conspiracy to distribute and possession with the intent to distribute Oxycodone, a narcotic controlled substance.
Sentencing for Terry Lee Scalf and Scottie Wayne Leach is set for Oct. 22, according to court documents.
Both men will testify for the prosecution at McNeese's trial, Inman said in court.
The other defendants in the case are George Eugene Copas, Chucky Joe Copas and Jimmy Lee Hodges.
Health problems of McNeese's lawyer, John T. Milburn Rogers, prompted a recent motion by Rogers requesting a continuation of the trial. None of the other defense lawyers or federal prosecutors objected.
Rogers was in court Friday with his client. McNeese sat quietly with Rogers, and answered, "No, your honor," when asked by Inman if he had any objections to the new trial date.
"I'm hoping to get in good health again," Rogers said.
Court documents show McNeese wants to retain Rogers as his lawyer, even if his medical condition means a delayed trial.
In his motion to continue the trial date, Rogers said he was diagnosed on March 17 with a "subarachnoid hemorrhage" of the brain at Laughlin Memorial Hospital and then transferred by Wings Air Rescue to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for treatment.
Rogers subsequently sought treatment at Johnson City Medical Center. Court documents state that three days after his release from the UT Medical Center, he "experienced another attack of more severe symptoms, including partial facial paralysis, right shoulder numbness, tingling and aching with similar symptoms in the right upper and lower extremities."
The diagnosis at Johnson City Medical Center was that Rogers was suffering from focal seizures "which were responsible for his ongoing neurological defects," the motion states.
Rogers said after Friday's hearing that he did not suffer a stroke.
Rogers said that drugs prescribed to treat his condition inhibit his current ability to appear in a trial setting. He has been advised "there are severe consequences inherent in any failure to allow the appropriate time for such an injury to heal," court documents state.
In an affidavit accompanying the continuation request, Rogers' personal doctor, E. Brad Strange, recommends that Rogers not engage in any jury trial cases until Sept. 1, at the earliest. He was further told "there are severe consequences inherent in any failure to allow the appropriate time for such an injury to heal."
Rogers, a prominent Greeneville trial lawyer who recently opened a new downtown office, is working reduced hours for the time being but stressed after the hearing that he continues to accept new clients.
"They tell me that I'll make a complete recovery," he said. "I'm still working. I'm still plugging away."
MCNEESE MAINTAINS INNOCENCE
McNeese, 37, of Afton, remains free on $20,000 bond. He has entered not guilty pleas to the drug conspiracy charge and another charge of intentionally omitting material information from reports, records and documents relating to required documentation of controlled substances. He was indicted on the charges on Feb. 14.
The co-defendants in the case were also charged 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, who formerly worked at Corley's Pharmacy in Greeneville.
McNeese has not worked at the pharmacy since July 2011, when owner Alan Corley discovered missing inventory.
McNeese had been a pharmacist at Corley's Pharmacy in Greeneville since 1999 and became a co-owner of the business in 2004. He is no longer involved in the business.
The 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 defendants knowingly did "combine, conspire, confederate and agree with each other and with diverse other persons" to distribute a quantity of Oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, the indictment states.
Events surrounding the extortion-related allegations involving Chucky Copas, George Copas, Hodges, Scalf and Leach, occurred between April and July 28, 2011, the indictment states.
Scalf and Leach did not enter guilty pleas to the extortion-related charge. Their guilty plea on the drug distribution charge apparently satisfies the indictment against them.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Taylor, who is prosecuting the case, was not in court on Friday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Count three of the indictment states that McNeese "knowingly and intentionally omitted material information from reports, records and documents" relating to required documentation of controlled substances.
SELF TRIAL CONTINUED
In Greene County Criminal Court, Rogers recently cited health issues in requesting and receiving a continuation in the Ethan Self trial.
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 the Rogers' motion in March and continued Self's trial date to Sept. 17. The trial had been scheduled to begin on May 14.
McNeese's trial was to have started on July 17. Rogers expressed concern during Friday's hearing that a September or early October trial date for McNeese may conflict with the Self trial in Greene County Criminal Court.
"The Self case is supposed to last two weeks. We've got 100 witnesses," Rogers said.
Inman said he was concerned with ensuring defendants in the federal proceeding having their cases resolved in a timely fashion.
Robert Reeves, an assistant U.S. attorney appearing Friday in court on behalf of Taylor, said he anticipated that McNesse's trial will last three days.
"I think this case is going to go longer than three days," Rogers said.
Inman set a motions deadline in the federal case of Sept. 14, and an Oct. 10 date for a conference and motions hearing.
U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer will be the trial judge.