Area man sentenced to prison
By KELI JACOBI News-T imes Staff Jurors quickly returned a not guilty verdict Wednesday in the case of a 34-year-old area man accused by the state of possessing a sizable quantity of drugs in his vehicle with the intent to distribute them. Roland Stringfellow was, however, found guilty of one charge – possession of a fi rearm by a certain person, for which he was sentenced to fi ve years in the Arkansas Department of Correction and fi ned $7,500. The defendant openly wept with relief following the verdict, then wept again with disappointment upon hearing the jury’s decision to sentence him. His attorney, Kate Street, had argued for probation and a heavy fi ne.
Stringfellow was taken into custody and charged with several felony offenses following a traffi c stop by an investigator with the Union County Sheriff’s Offi ce some time before 11 p.m. on May 19, 2006. A search warrant was executed on the vehicle after Stringfellow admitted he had a fi rearm in the vehicle. Offi - cers testifi ed they found about 11 grams of cocaine, a small amount of cocaine base and 12 prescription pills under the passenger seat, subsequent to locating the semi-automatic pistol in Stringfellow’s car. The total street value of the drugs was roughly $1,300, according to testimony by Investigator David Gates of the UCSO.
The defendant was charged with the following: Possession of a controlled substance (Xanax) with intent to deliver, possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with intent to deliver, simultaneous possession of drugs and fi rearms, and possession of a fi rearm by a certain person.
Stringfellow admitted under direct examination that he was not supposed to be in possession of a fi rearm because of a prior felony conviction in Union County for third-degree battery, but denied knowing anything about the drugs. "My fi rst reaction was he put it there," Stringfellow said, in answer to a question about his reaction to seeing the drugs removed from the car.
"But you no longer believe this to be true?" asked Streett. "No, ma’am," he said.
Streett raised reasonable doubt that Stringfellow was aware of the drugs by repeated references to Stringfellow’s cousin whom she said might have been the actual culprit. This same cousin kept the car during Stringfellow’s 12-hour shift at Clean Harbors on May 19, she said, before returning at the end of Stringfellow’s shift the night of his arrest. Street reminded jurors that the cousin then asked Stringfellow to drop him off at a local business known to be a beehive of drug activity, according to testimony from a supervisor with the probation offi ce.
The public defender emphasized her client had neither the motive, nor the "criminal state of mind" to be guilty of the drug charges, even as he freely admitted his guilt in possessing the fi rearm. She said Stringfellow’s steady work ethic through the years and lack of other felony drugrelated convictions were inconsistent with the "lifestyle of a typical drug dealer."
"The state’s case hinges on circumstantial evidence," she said.
"There is no dispute the drugs were there. The question is – does Roland know it? ... You have to believe Roland knew the drugs weere there (in order to convict him). Why on earth would he tell (investigators) about the gun if he knew there was 11 grams of coke in that car? Anyone who has ever lent their vehicle to someone could be sitting where Roland is right now," said Streett, during closing arguments.
But Union County Deputy Prosecutor Tracy Rothermel attacked the defendant’s credibility during closing arguments and argued that "common sense" should lead jury members to a different conclusion. Rothermel said allegations of a cousin who may have planted drugs was negligible, at best.
"(Roland Stringfellow) is not on trial for a lifestyle. He’s on trial for what happened that particular day," she said.
Circuit Judge Carol C. Anthony presided over the oneday trial.