A West Memphis man who prosecutors say led a violent cocaine-trafficking ring in the area in 2012 and 2013 was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison after his March convictions by a federal jury.
Rafael McDaniel, 33, told Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Miller that he wasn't a drug dealer, didn't know most of the people who testified they bought drugs from him and kept 14 guns in his house only because he was a gun collector.
Miller said he didn't believe it. He recalled a video shown at trial of officers searching McDaniel's home in February 2012. In the video, the officers pointed out guns and boxes of ammunition that the judge said were clearly "strategically placed" so they'd be ready to fire on any surprise visitors, no matter where McDaniel was inside the house.
Miller rejected defense attorney John Wesley Hall's objection to a sentencing enhancement for obstructing justice by lying on the witness stand. Hall argued that imposing the enhancement would deter defendants from testifying in their own defense at trial, but Miller said his motivation was to punish the commission of perjury.
Hall represented McDaniel at sentencing, although at trial McDaniel was represented by attorney Chris Tarver, an assistant federal public defender whose representation ended after the trial because of a conflict that arose.
The government's main witness, Kenneth "Ice Man" Brown, testified at the week-long trial that as a leader of a methamphetamine ring in Blytheville, he grossed more than $20 million in about two years from selling drugs, and that he arranged to meet McDaniel, "the head guy in West Memphis," to see about combining their operations to make even more money.
Hall and McDaniel said it was unfair to sentence McDaniel to a longer sentence than the 12 years Brown received in June for leading that large-scale distribution conspiracy in another case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters disagreed, noting that Brown pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and the guilty plea earned him credit under federal sentencing guidelines, while McDaniel went to trial and was convicted by a jury on four charges. They were conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute crack and powder cocaine, two counts of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute it and a fourth count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
The first three charges, which were grouped together for sentencing purposes, were punishable under federal sentencing guidelines by 151 to 188 months, or 12½ years to 15½ years, based partly on circumstances noted in McDaniel's pre-sentence report and partly on the amount of drugs involved: between 840 grams and 2.8 kilograms, or about 5 pounds, of crack. The last charge carries a minimum sentence of five years and is required to be imposed consecutively to the sentence on the other charges.
McDaniel told the judge Friday that he had never met Brown, who he said lied on the stand "to get a time-cut," referring to sentence reductions of up to 50 percent that are sometimes awarded for cooperation. Brown hadn't received any sentence reductions as of Friday.
McDaniel also told the judge that, while he knew Delvin "Wee Wee" Green, a co-defendant who t̶e̶s̶t̶i̶f̶i̶e̶d̶ ̶a̶g̶a̶i̶n̶s̶t̶ ̶h̶i̶m̶ incriminated him in a public plea agreement* and is serving 10 years, Green was merely "a guy I gamble with" who sold drugs, "but I wasn't involved with him in selling drugs."
Peters asked whether he remembered anyone named "Tim." McDaniel said he knew several people named Tim, including Tim Kennedy, a cousin of his who "used to hang out with Delvin and David Green," Delvin's brother.
He said he used to see Kennedy "a couple of days a week" until 2013.
Asked what happened to him, McDaniel shrugged, saying, "He stopped coming around. They said he was just missing."
He acknowledged he'd had arguments with Kennedy before Kennedy disappeared, but indicated they weren't serious.
Peters told the judge that Kenneth Brown, who is in a federal penitentiary in Forrest City, reported that Delvin Green, who is housed in the same prison, "approached him last week and harassed him about testifying at the trial, and said, 'You better think about what happened to Tim.'"
While Peters asked Miller to sentence McDaniel above the penalty range recommended by sentencing guidelines, Hall asked for a sentence below that range. Miller denied both requests.
"He has so many arrests for so much aggressive, violent conduct," Peters said, calling McDaniel "a troublemaker in the community" and "a repetitive problem in the community who has accepted no responsibility for his conduct."
She said 20 years "is not enough time to protect the community, and won't address his lack of remorse." She called McDaniel, who stood at the lectern with his hair in long, thick braids, "a gun-toting drug dealer who let his children be in the house" with drugs and guns.
Miller said his impression of McDaniel, after listening to nearly a week's worth of testimony, is that he is "a guy who on paper is somewhat clean because he had people out there doing things for him." He said it was obvious that McDaniel ran a heating and air conditioning business only "as a front."
Miller recalled that at least one witness appeared frightened when testifying against McDaniel. He said that in sharp contrast, Brown appeared confident on the witness stand as he explained that as the "head man" in Blytheville, he had arranged to meet McDaniel, "the top guy in West Memphis," to consider expanding his business operation.
"Mr. Brown said, 'We were equals, two head guys coming together to broker deals,'" Miller recalled.
Miller sentenced McDaniel to 180 months, or 15 years, on the first three charges, to be followed by the consecutive five-year sentence on the gun charge.
Peters asked the judge to recommend to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that McDaniel serve his sentence in a prison outside Arkansas, "as far away from the community he victimized" as possible. Miller, noting that he didn't want McDaniel to be housed at Forrest City, where Brown is incarcerated, said he would recommend a federal prison in Texarkana, to enable McDaniel's family to visit him fairly easily.
After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer announced: "We are committed to working together in this district to dismantle drug trafficking organizations operating in our communities. When local law enforcement asks for assistance from federal partners as the West Memphis Police Department did in this case, everyone benefits. ... Our commitment to eradicating drug trafficking and violent crime has never been stronger. With this conviction, another violent drug dealer has been removed from the streets for a very long time."
McDaniel was the only one of 17 defendants arrested in 2013 in a roundup dubbed Operation Delta Crossroads to go to trial. The others all pleaded guilty and are serving sentences of between four years and 15 1/2 years.
Metro on 11/14/2015
*CORRECTION: Delvin “Wee Wee” Green, a codefendant of Rafael McDaniel of West Memphis in a federal cocaine trafficking case, didn’t testify at McDaniel’s jury trial, but incriminated McDaniel in a public plea agreement. The nature of Green’s statement was incorrectly described in this article.
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