Jury fines Hawkins man $307K in drug case

Jeff Bobo • Feb 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — A Hawkins County jury had trouble believing Tuesday that Ronnie Edward “Cotton” Seals had 230 grams of cocaine with a street value of $23,000 at his Surgoinsville home “for personal use.”

But that was Seals’ explanation of the drugs as he stood trial Tuesday in Hawkins County Circuit Court on several drug trafficking charges. The charges stemmed from a Feb. 1, 2007, Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office raid on Seals’ house and his camper behind the home at 198 Bray Road, Surgoinsville.

The jury found Seals, 52, guilty of four counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, maintaining a dwelling where drugs are sold, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Although the jury levied the maximum fine against Seals in every case — $307,500 in total fines — the sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 26 before Judge John Dugger.

Hawkins County deputies arrested six people during the raid.

Seals’ defense was that the drugs were for personal use and there was only circumstantial evidence of any intent to deliver.

Former HCSO Narcotics Officer Gary Murrell testified that 25 to 30 cars arrived at Seals’ residence while the raid was ongoing. Murrell said a makeshift parking lot was made out of a vacant field to park the cars, interview their occupants, and in several cases make arrests.

“The fact that so many people arrived at the residence during the time police were there was pretty strong circumstantial evidence,” Assistant Attorney General Doug Godbee said.

When deputies entered the camper, Seals was allegedly cooking a paste mixture of cocaine and baking soda into crack cocaine on the stove. Deputies also found 6 ounces of powder cocaine vacuum-sealed in plastic under the bed.

Also seized were 2 ounces of marijuana, 14 hydrocodone pills, five Valiums and $3,300 in cash. The sheriff’s office also seized a 1994 Royal fifth-wheel camper.

The camper was equipped with video surveillance equipment.

Four of the people arrested during the raid also appeared before Dugger Tuesday. They were originally indicted on felony drug trafficking charges as well, but the felony charges were dropped Tuesday, and they pleaded guilty to attempted simple possession of Schedule II narcotics.

They are: Mary Ann Bible, 45, 2066 Pressman’s Home Road, Rogersville; Tammy Sue Hickman, 45, 263 Cope Lane, Rogersville; Shellena Kay Charles, 30, 128 Don Charles Road, Surgoinsville; and Jerry Lynn Burton, 54, 2066 Pressman’s Home Road, Rogersville

“They were charged as co-defendants because they were there at the house at the time of the raid, but it was later determined that they didn’t have any drugs or drug paraphernalia,” Godbee said. “They pleaded guilty to attempted simple possession (of Schedule II narcotics), and it was the state’s contention that they were there to either purchase drugs or use drugs.”

Seals faces a sentence of eight to 12 years in prison later this month on Tuesday’s convictions, but that won’t be the end of his legal problems. He has two other major cocaine trafficking cases pending in Hawkins County — one from his arrest in late February 2007 on cocaine trafficking and gun charges, and again in May on a cocaine trafficking charge.

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