The Rand Corp. estimates that methamphetamine cost Tennessee as much as $1.6 billion in 2005 and judging by the number of criminal cases involving the drug that are cycling through Bedford County Circuit Courts that figure is likely much higher in 2022.
The costs Rand attempted to nail down include crime and the criminal justice system, healthcare, premature deaths, productivity, child endangerment, and environmental damage from labs that produce it.
In Tennessee, the law enforcement cost of meth was estimated to be around $300 million in 2009. Now, 13 years later, the abuse of methamphetamine is skyrocketing.
Last Monday was a typical day in Judge Forest Alexander Durard, Jr’s courtroom. There were 20 cases on the docket and eight (40 percent) of them were directly involved with methamphetamine.
One case involved 35-year-old Shawna Michelle Barrier, of Lynchburg, who is accused of possessing 300 grams or more of meth. The average sale of meth to addicts is around 3 grams, which goes for around $50 a gram. In street value, the 300 grams would fetch around $15,000. There was no action taken on this case on Monday.
In February of this year, Jack Kenneth Plemons, 50, took a plea deal that landed him 38 years in prison for multiple counts involving dealing methamphetamine. When he was arrested on Jan. 28, 2020, Plemons told investigators he had been purchasing 227 grams of methamphetamine every week to sell. At the going rate, Plemons was taking in nearly $9,000 per week. Plemons will have to serve a minimum of 13 years before he becomes eligible for early release.
Building a drug case
Last Monday ,Cindy Leigh Smith, 55, who lived on Bethlehem Church Road in Shelbyville, was wheeled in a wheelchair into Judge Durard’s courtroom to accept a sentence on 11 counts connected with dealing meth. Smith appeared very fragile, in poor health, and sobbed as she was sentenced to 12 years in prison. She pled guilty to five of the 11 counts. She must serve at least 30 percent of her sentence (3.6 years) before she will be eligible for early release. She was also fined $10,000.
Two people who were at Smith’s home the day she was arrested were also in court this week. Stacy Sibley Stewart of Winchester, and Jamie Rebecca Ryan, 31, of Bell Buckle, were present when members of the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force searched Smith’s home on March 19, 2020. Smith had been out of jail awaiting trial but her bond was revoked for failure to appear in court on Jan. 10, 2022. Ryan remains free on a $20,000 bond. Stewart’s bond was also set at $20,000 but he has been unable to secure his release.
Stewart told Judge Durard that he is not satisfied with the representation he is receiving from Public Defender Mike Collins. Judge Durard rejected his complaint. His trial is set for April 27-28, 2023. Ryan’s trial is set for April 13, 2023.
Building the case
According to Assistant DA Mike Randles, the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force built the case against Smith starting on March 9, 2020, using a confidential informant to purchase methamphetamine.
• On March 9, 2020, the confidential informant purchased meth from Smith in the parking lot of a gas station across the street from McDonald’s on Madison Street in Shelbyville. The CI was given $120 and was equipped with a recording device. The CI bought 2.95 grams from Smith. Investigators have video of the exchange.
• On March 11, 2020, the CI made arrangements with Smith to meet in Shelbyville Kroger parking lot but Smith changed the location to the Dollar General, telling the CI she believed Kroger was too risky because agents with the drug task force patrolled the Kroger parking lot. At the Dollar General, Smith refused to hand the drugs directly to the CI, apparently believing that if she left them for him on a store shelf she would be immune from criminal responsibility.
• On March 13, 2020, the CI met with Smith at the Bedford Church of Christ, where Smith and the CI completed the deal at Smith’s car, while task force agents waited down the road at the Bedford Market.
• On March 17, 2020, Smith again sold meth to the CI in the parking lot of the Bedford Church of Christ.
• On March, 19, 2020, task force agents secured a search warrant and went to Smith’s home where they found her in a shop building on the property.
Other Meth cases
• Robert Carlyle Clanton, 42, filed a petition with the court and is set to have a hearing on Oct. 17. He was found guilty of 12 counts connected with selling meth at a trial in August of 2015.
• James Paul Nowlin, 42, of Shelbyville, was arrested on March 11, 2020 but was released on a $48,000 bond. He had reportedly checked himself into the Buffalo Valley treatment center in July but his current location is unknown.
• Carl Franklin Pendergast, 53, of Shelbyville, was arrested on charges of meth sales on Feb. 22, 2019. He is currently incarcerated. He was scheduled for a post-conviction relief hearing. He took a plea deal on March 22, 2021.
• Samuel Robert Whitehead, 38, of Shelbyville, was arrested July 12, 2019 on two counts of meth sales. His bond was revoked for failing to appear in court on July 18, 2022. He is being held in the Bedford County jail. He will next appear in court on Oct. 17 when he will either accept a plea deal or a trial date will be set.