Following a four-day trial in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in March, a jury convicted James “Boogie” Simonton, 50, of Kingsport on these charges:
— Conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine
— Possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense
— Three counts of being a felon in possession of firearms
— Witness intimidation
Simonton, who faced a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, was scheduled for sentencing June 11.
However, two weeks after his conviction, Simonton filed a motion for a new trial, claiming the outbursts of two government witnesses made him appear to be a violent ringleader capable of exacting revenge from prison.
Simonton argued the court should have declared a mistrial because of these outbursts.
In April, Simonton’s attorney — Don Spurrell of Johnson City — withdrew from the case after a “slurry of allegations” from Simonton that Spurrell was working with the government against him.
Simonton’s new attorney — former federal prosecutor Dan Smith of Jonesborough — filed a supplement to the new trial motion in August. In it, Smith argued the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Simonton had any involvement with illegal drugs or that he was in possession of any firearm.
In a response to the motion, prosecutors point out that Simonton’s DNA was found on a firearm located by police on the seat of his motorcycle. Witnesses testified about Simonton’s involvement in a drug conspiracy and that they purchased firearms for him. Shown at trial was video surveillance of these gun purchases.
Judge Ronnie Greer has yet to rule on the motion for a new trial.
According to evidence presented at trial, an investigation of Simonton began when two young men came to Indian Path Medical Center in May of 2016 with gunshot wounds. One of the victims was Simonton’s son: James Simonton III.
Detectives soon after determined Simonton was a suspect and when officers went to his residence, they found a Glock pistol with an extended magazine, which the ATF traced to his neighbor. Through the trace, prosecutors say the firearm had been purchased at Academy Sports in Johnson City.
The retailer provided surveillance video, which showed that Simonton had been present during the purchase of the firearm. Investigators learned that Joni Galyon of Kingsport had actually purchased the firearm for him. She pleaded guilty to doing so in December 2016 and is awaiting sentencing.
As the investigation progressed, two co-defendants, one of whom was another son of Simonton, were arrested in possession of crack cocaine.
This led to information about Simonton being involved in trafficking crack cocaine from a source in Georgia into Sullivan County. Ultimately, the investigation recovered the firearm used in the shooting of the two young men: an AK-63 (7.62-caliber rifle).
Prosecutors say that after Simonton’s arrest, and while in federal custody, he threatened a cooperating witness against him in an effort to influence that person’s testimony.