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Estes v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

March 7, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal No. 2:12-cr-00011-MR-DCK-1


          Martin Reidinger, United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Petitioner's Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody [CV Doc. 1][1] and the Petitioner's Motion for Post-Conviction Discovery Pursuant to Rule 6 of the Rules Governing 2255 Habeas Proceedings [CV Doc. 6]. The Petitioner is represented by attorneys E.J. Hurst, II and Marcia G. Shein.


         In November 2010, federal and state law enforcement officials began investigating a large-scale methamphetamine distribution conspiracy led by Michael James Taylor and involving several others, including William Wesley Hargett, Sonya Maddy, Larry Watkins, Kirsten McGillivray, Adam Cochran, Johnny Frady, and Ricky Fisher. Through their investigation, law enforcement officials learned that Taylor owned the Budget Inn Motel in Sylva, North Carolina, and used the motel as a distribution point for large quantities of methamphetamine. Taylor and other members of his distribution network also conducted drug transactions at a house located at 19 Pine Street, Greenville, South Carolina (“the Pine Street residence”), as well as other locations within the Western District of North Carolina. [Criminal Case No. 2:12-cr-00011-MR-DCK, Doc. 19 at ¶¶ 10, 11, 17, 18].

         On June 3, 2011, the Petitioner William Andrew Estes was released from the North Carolina Department of Corrections after serving a 14-year sentence for first degree kidnapping. Prior to the Petitioner's imprisonment, the Petitioner was in a relationship with Taylor's mother and acted as a step-father to him. Also at some point, Taylor and the Petitioner were incarcerated together and maintained their bond during that time. After his release from prison, the Petitioner contacted Taylor to discuss his financial situation and to talk about ways that the Petitioner could make money. Eventually, Taylor informed the Petitioner about his methamphetamine distribution and the Petitioner began to work for Taylor. [Id. at ¶¶ 12].

         The Petitioner was considered Taylor's “enforcer” during the conspiracy. [Id. at ¶ 35]. Taylor referred to the Petitioner as his “right hand man, ” although the Petitioner very rarely dealt directly with the sale or distribution of methamphetamine. [Id.]. One co-conspirator described the Petitioner's job as “beat[ing] people up and threaten[ing] people on behalf of Taylor.” [Id. at ¶ 27]. The Petitioner is 6'2” tall and weighs 200 pounds. [Id. at 3].

         The Petitioner was often observed in Taylor's presence when methamphetamine was sold or distributed. [Id. at ¶¶ 24, 25]. The Petitioner was observed on one occasion by a co-conspirator at the Pine Street residence when Michael Taylor received a delivery of approximately 2½ pounds of methamphetamine from a Mexican male. The Petitioner was observed assisting Taylor with weighing and repackaging the methamphetamine. [Id. at ¶ 19].

         In June 2011, the Petitioner accompanied Taylor to meet with a co-conspirator who owed Taylor money for a drug debt. During that meeting, Taylor demanded that the co-conspirator turn over the keys to her car as payment for the drug debt. [Id. at ¶ 30].

         On another occasion in June 2011, law enforcement officials conducting telephonic surveillance of the conspiracy members heard Taylor direct a co-conspirator to use a vehicle to transport methamphetamine. Law enforcement later heard the Petitioner, in Taylor's absence, coordinating the pickup of that vehicle after the methamphetamine was delivered. [Id. at ¶ 20].

         In July 2011, the Petitioner accompanied Taylor to a co-conspirator's house where Taylor introduced the Petitioner as a friend who had just gotten out of prison. The Petitioner accompanied Taylor on multiple other occasions to the co-conspirator's residence when Taylor was dropping off or picking up bulk amounts of methamphetamine. Taylor frequently used two magnetic boxes attached to the underside of his pickup truck to transport or hide methamphetamine. The Petitioner was present and witnessed Taylor using these boxes. [Id. at ¶ 25].

         Following his arrest in August 2011, the Petitioner was housed in the same jail as Taylor and other co-conspirators. Taylor was overheard in the jail directing the Petitioner upon his release to travel to South Carolina to get money from “Shane” and “Pops, ” individuals who were known to distribute methamphetamine for the Taylor conspiracy. Taylor and the Petitioner were also overheard trying to identify who was “snitching” within the conspiracy. [Id. at ¶ 31].

         While incarcerated, the Petitioner continued to speak freely about the conspiracy to other inmates. The Petitioner detailed one event that occurred around July 4, 2011, when some unknown Mexicans made a delivery of methamphetamine to a motel in South Carolina where the Petitioner was present. The Petitioner was patrolling the area outside the motel while waiting for Taylor. At this point, the Petitioner and Taylor were suspicious that one of the co-conspirators was cooperating with law enforcement. That co-conspirator was also travelling to the motel and the Petitioner believed that the co-conspirator intended to follow the Mexicans back to Atlanta, Georgia, to provide law enforcement with the location. [Id. at ¶ 32].

         The Petitioner stated in these jail house conversations that he never sold any methamphetamine but had been present when methamphetamine deliveries were made. The Petitioner also described incidents where he confronted one of the members of the conspiracy by “putting hands on him” because the co-conspirator owed Taylor money. [Id. at ¶ 33].

         Eventually the Petitioner stopped talking freely about the conspiracy because he heard that an acquaintance had provided a statement to law enforcement. The Petitioner was heard saying that he was having someone find out when the acquaintance would be released and where he would reside. The Petitioner further stated that he had guns “stashed” and that if he “got out, ” they would not have to worry about witnesses. [Id. at ¶ 34].

         On July 21, 2012, while housed at the Cherokee County Detention Center in Murphy, North Carolina, the Petitioner was involved in an altercation with two of his co-defendants, Lonnie Payne, Jr. and Adam Cochran. According to Payne and Cochran, the door between two inmate housing areas was left open and the Petitioner was able to enter the pod where Cochran and Payne were standing. When the Petitioner entered the pod he assaulted both Payne and Cochran. During the altercation, witnesses overheard the Petitioner yelling about Payne and Cochran “turning evidence.” Both Payne and Cochran sustained physical injuries from the assault. The Petitioner later admitted committing the assaults and told law enforcement officers he could have easily killed Payne and Cochran but did not. [Id. at ¶¶ 38-40].


         On September 20, 2011, the Petitioner was charged in a Bill of Indictment, along with ten co-defendants, with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 50 grams of actual methamphetamine and at least 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. [Criminal Case No. 2:11-cr-00022-MR-DLH-2, Doc. 74]. The Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina were appointed to represent the Petitioner.

         On May 18, 2012, the Petitioner entered into a Plea Agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to a Bill of Information that charged a conspiracy involving a lower drug quantity, in exchange for which the Government agreed to dismiss the Indictment against the Petitioner. [Criminal Case No. 2:12-cr-00011-MR-DCK, Docs. 1 and 2]. The effect of this was to reduce the mandatory minimum sentence from ten years to five. [Id.].

         In the Plea Agreement, the parties made a series of joint sentencing recommendations to the Court, including the following:

a. The amount of actual methamphetamine that was known to or reasonably foreseeable by the defendant was 947.6 grams, which is a base offense level of 36, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(2);
b. The defendant's offense level is decreased by three levels to 33, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(a)(5), because he is entitled to an adjustment, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2, for a mitigating role[;]
c. The defendant's offense level is further decreased to 32, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(a)(5), because the resulting offense level was greater than 32 and the defendant was a minimal participant; d. The defendant's offense level is increased by two levels to 34, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(2), because the defendant used violence or made a credible threat to use violence;
e. The defendant's offense level is decreased by four levels to 30, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2(a), because the defendant was a minimal participant; f. The defendant's offense level is decreased two additional levels to 28, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(15), because the defendant was a minimal participant and he was motivated by an intimate or familial relationship to commit the offense and was otherwise unlikely to commit such an offense; the defendant received no monetary compensation from the illegal purchase, sale, transport or storage of controlled substance; and the defendant had minimal knowledge of the scope and structure of the enterprise;
* * *
i. The parties agree that the appropriate sentence is one at the low end of the “applicable guideline range” and that neither party will seek a departure or variance from the low ...

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