U.S. District Judge Oren R. Lewis yesterday chastised prosecutors and defense attorneys in a major drug case because five people convicted last July of conspiracy to distribute cocaine still have not filed their appeals.
"It is inexcusable for the government to allow the defendants to dilly-dally around" without filing appeal briefs with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Lewis told the assembled lawyers. "And it is a gross tragedy of erros" for defense attorneys to have taken so long in filing their appeals, he added.
After the convictions last summer, the defendants, Michael F. Tillery, Wayne McNair Hargrove, William Barry Robinson, Paulette Ashton and Marian Teresa Starr all filed notices that they intended to appeal their cases.
In yesterday's unusual hearing, the angry Lewis demanded to know why the appeals had been delayed. Such appeals usually are filed within 90 days of conviction, "and here it is almost a year later and you haven't filed them," he said.
Defense attorneys Stewart C. Economou, R. Kenneth Mundy, Thomas Bepko and Christopher Hopkins put the blame on a variety of legal technicalities, including their inability to get transcripts of the five-day trial printed.
Lewis rejected the excuses, saying that if the appeals were not filed within the week he would consider jailing Ashton and Starr, who are free on bond.
Tillery and Hargrove, each sentenced to 10 years prison, and Robinson, who got a seven-year sentence, are in jail. Ashton received a four-year sentence and is free on $25,000 bond. Starr received an eight-year sentence and is free on $50,000 bond.
They attorneys said they would tell Lewis next Friday whether the appeals had been filed.