Two co-defendants in a drug trafficking case pending in a Texarkana federal court want their cases tried separately, but the U.S. government is in opposition to their jointly filed request.
Myrna Guadulupe Corrujedo, 35, and Manuel Hernandez, 60, were allegedly in possession Aug. 9, 2017, of more than 10 kilograms of powder cocaine which was hidden in a secret compartment built into the Mercury Marquis they were driving on Interstate 30 near Mount Pleasant, Texas, according to court documents used to create the following account. Corrujedo was allegedly speeding when Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Charles Cannon pulled them over.
Several factors led Cannon to ask for permission to search the car, a request granted by both Corrujedo and Hernandez. Cannon noticed some paint in the back seat area didn't match the original paint and suspected an alteration had been made to create a hiding spot. A law enforcement canine alerted to the presence of drugs, and a compartment filled with cocaine was discovered.
Since then, a grand jury in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas issued an indictment charging both Corrujedo and Hernandez with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Both have entered pleas of not guilty. Earlier in the case, a joint motion to suppress the evidence seized from the car was denied following a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven.
On July 17, Corrujedo's lawyer, Craig Henry of Texarkana, and Hernandez' lawyer, Charles Van Cleef of Longview, Texas, filed a joint motion asking the cases be severed. The motion cites the defendants' intentions of raising "conflicting defenses."
"In essence, it appears that each defendant blames the other," the motion states.
The motion complains that, in light of Corrujedo's and Hernandez' plan to point the finger at the other, a joint trial would mean the defendants both face two prosecutors: an assistant U.S. Attorney representing the government and their co-defendant's lawyer.
"The Court has already heard detention matters and suppression matters, and the discovery supplied by the Government establishes at least three contradictions: the planning and purpose of the trip, who did what at the Mexican border, and who owned and controlled the vehicle in which cocaine was found," the motion to sever states.
The motion argues that precedent-setting case law requires separate trials when the two defenses expected to be presented at trial are in such conflict that to believe one theory, a jury must disbelieve another and where the competing theories would require each defendant to face a dual prosecution by the government and a co-defendant's lawyer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lucas Machicek filed a response Tuesday in opposition to the motion for severance.
"The defendants in the present case were each interviewed at the time of their arrest. Both Corrujedo and Hernandez propounded the same defensive theory at the time of their custodial interviews. Specifically, both defendants denied having any knowledge of the more than 10 kilograms of cocaine located in the back seat of the car they were occupying. These defensive theories, although perhaps unbelievable, are not mutually exclusive. A jury could hypothetically choose to believe both defendants lacked knowledge of the illicit narcotics located in the vehicle. Such a circumstance would not necessitate a certain jury determination as to the credibility of any testimony offered by the co-defendant and is, therefore, not mutually exclusive," Machicek's response states.
Machicek argues as well that the preference in criminal cases involving two or more defendants is to try the cases together to conserve time and resources. Machicek points out that both defendants claimed during prior interviews with law enforcement to having no knowledge of the drugs being in the car. To later testify that their co-defendant must be to blame would amount to speculation which would be inadmissible.
Machicek's response further argues that a severance should not be granted when it would allow a defendant to avoid a challenge to their defense.
Deadlines are approaching in the case. Both defendants have until 3 p.m. July 31 to let the court know if a plea agreement has been reached. Both defendants are currently scheduled for a joint trial Aug. 27 before U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III. Both of the charges facing each of the defendants is punishable by 10 years to life in federal prison and a fine up to $10 million.