A Searcy County man who pleaded guilty last June to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison by U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr.
Kenneth Harris, 66, of Harriet was one of three people indicted Nov. 6, 2019, on conspiracy and distribution charges. Of his two co-defendants, charges were dismissed against one and the other is a fugitive. Harris pleaded guilty in federal court June 22.
Harris was arrested in February 2019 after Searcy County sheriff's deputies served a search warrant at his home and found 8 grams of methamphetamine, 2 grams of marijuana, two hydrocodone pills, and an unspecified number of morphine and Clonazepam tablets, along with drug paraphernalia.
He was charged in Searcy County Circuit Court with possession of methamphetamine with purpose to deliver, four counts of possession of a controlled substance, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and operating a drug premises.
In the same investigation, Harris was charged with 10 counts of delivery of methamphetamine after Searcy County sheriff's office investigators recorded 10 controlled drug buys of 1 gram each of methamphetamine between Oct. 4, 2018, and Jan. 25, 2019.
Those charges were dismissed in December 2019 after Harris' indictment by federal prosecutors.
After explaining the sentencing ranges set out under federal statute and by the federal sentencing guidelines, Moody calculated that Harris had a total offense level of 23 and criminal history category 3, setting the recommended guideline sentence range from 60 to 71 months in prison, 4 years to life on supervised release and a fine ranging from $20,000 to $5 million.
Under federal statutes, Harris could have faced a sentence ranging from five to 40 years in prison, with Moody required to impose a minimum sentence of five years.
Harris' attorney, Lott Rolfe IV, citing his client's history of drug addiction, his age and underlying health issues, asked Moody to sentence him to the mandatory minimum of 60 months.
"There's a real concern that if he receives a sentence that's on the high end of the guideline range -- or even above that -- he may not make it as far as living within the penal system," Rolfe said. "He just hopes to be in a position to get back to his family at some point."
Two Pulaski County sheriff's office deputies, Kathy McConnell and Alex Rancifer, testified on Harris' behalf, saying that since his incarceration beginning April 1, 2021, after his bond was revoked, Harris has voluntarily participated in a jail program called CSI -- which stands for community-focused, safety-driven and integrity-based. The program, McConnell explained, is a 240-hour class that blends yoga, drug rehab, and life-skills education to reduce recidivism among inmates.
After successfully completing the program, McConnell said, Harris continued to attend to provide guidance to other inmates.
"He's pretty much had full programming the whole time he's been in there," she said.
McConnell said during his incarceration, Harris had been cooperative with the staff, kind to the staff and other inmates and had not caused any trouble or had any disputes with other inmates.
"Everybody in the unit loves him," she said.
Rancifer echoed McConnell's sentiments, saying that Harris would often counsel inmates new to the program.
"He sits down with them one-on-one and talks to them," Rancifer said. "He just tries to help them with life lessons and hopefully, down the line, atone for the mistakes he's made in his own life."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Bryant, who is prosecuting the case, requested a guideline sentence, saying that when Harris' home was searched, investigators found items consistent with distribution and that a co-defendant, Tonya Hughes, had told investigators she had delivered approximately 12 pounds of methamphetamine to Harris to sell.
A third co-defendant, Jeffrey Rogers, 65, of Marshall was originally charged in Searcy County Circuit Court with numerous drug and firearms charges, all of which were dismissed when the indictment was handed up. But, the federal charges against Rogers were dismissed by the government's motion after Hughes, 47, of Little Rock failed to appear for a plea hearing on June 23 and has since been declared a fugitive.
In announcing the sentence, Moody said he had to weigh the severity of Harris' offense with his conduct since his incarceration.
"You distributed a large quantity of methamphetamine and poisoned your local community by doing that," Moody said. "I'm weighing the severity of that offense against the good work you've done since you've been incarcerated."