A Pittsylvania County, Virginia, circuit jury last month sentenced 27-year-old Robert E. Moore, Jr., a quadriplegic, to 21 years in Virginia's state penitentiary for selling one-third of an ounce of marijuana and five sleeping pills for $25.
Jury foreman Frank Anderson said that during the jury's deliberations "everyone was concerned (with) trying to do what the law required." Since the trial Anderson and other jury members have found that the people in the rural southern Virginia county, stand behind us (in our decision)," he said.
Moore's sentence for selling what his lawyer called "a piddly little bit" of marijuana comes at a time when such sentences for the sale and possession of the illegal drug are being questioned by higher courts. The 21-year term contrasts sharply with more lenient sentences meted out in urban areas of the state.
Anderson, an industrial laboratory assistant, said his understanding at the trial was that Moore, who is confined to a wheel chair and has only 30 per cent use of his arms, "was like a director, ordering people to get drugs and . . . he ended up with the money."
Anderson said the jury felt that the "evidence (against Moore) was overwhelming" but that there was a "great deal of discussion" on the length of the sentence during the deliberations at the Aug. 17 trial. Moore was also fined $16,000 for the illegal sale.
Danville's commonwealth's attorney, William Fuller, said Moore is exactly where he ought to be." Fuller was not the prosecuting attorney in the Aug. 17 trial but said he is familiar with Moore, whom he calls a "drug dealer and a menace to us."
Fuller was, however, the prosecutor in the 1972 malicious wounding trial stemming from the shooting that left Moore without the use of his legs and arms. Fuller said Moore and a friend, James otis Stallings, were both high on marijuana and were playing "Russian roulette" with a loaded pistol. Stallings shot Moore during this game and subsequently spent four years in the state prison, Fuller said.
Moore conceded to an Associated Press reporter that he has used drugs since he was 18 and has sold them in the past. But Moore's lawyer, Martin Donelson, said he has new evidence that shows that Moore did not participate in the illegal drug sale for which he has been sent to prison.
According to Robert P. Vines, Moore's court-appointed attorney at the trial, the prosecution contended that an undercover agent, a Pittsylvania County deputy sheriff, purchased the drugs from Moore at this residence through a go-between.
Vines said testimony by the undercover agent revealed that Moore directed Ronald Pruitt to give tht drugs to the policeman and then hand the money to Moore.
Pruitt was being paid by the county's department of social services to live with Moore and care for him, Vines said. He was also charged in the illegal drug sale. He pleaded guilty and is out on bond awaiting his sentencing Oct. 18, according to Donelson.
Pittsylvania Circuit Court Judge W. Carrington Thimpson, who denied motions to set aside the verdict and to order a new trial, yesterday declined to comment on the heavy sentence for Moore. He has, however, set a $25,000 bond that is being processed so that Moore can be released from prison pending an appeal.
Donelson said he will appeal Moore's case to the Virginia Supreme Court. He will argue that the 21-year sentence amounts to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. He said he will cite a recent order by U.S. District Court Judge James C. Turk overturning the sentence of a Wytheville, Va., man who was serving 40 years in prison for possession with the intent to sell less than nine ounces of marijuana.
In his opinion, Turk wrote that the 40-year sentence was "so grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime as to constitute cruel and unu-Eithth Amendment of the Constitution."
In many areas of Virginia, judges and juries rarely hand down the stiff sentences for the possession and sale of marijuana that the state's marijuana law permits.
In Virginia Beach only one week after Moore's trial, David and Thomas McNamara, sons of a Norfolk Circuit Court judge, were given suspended sentences for their attempts to sell almost $20,000 worth of marijuana and cocaine to an undercover agent. CAPTION: Picture, ROBERT E. MOORE JR. . . . sale of $25