A Little Rock man who broke down in tears while explaining himself to a federal judge Wednesday was sentenced to nearly 10 years in a federal prison after pleading guilty in August to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Jasper Vick, 39, was one of 11 people indicted in August 2018 as part of a cocaine trafficking ring that authorities said was run by John Steven Garner of Hensley and was responsible for distributing large quantities of cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana in Central Arkansas. Garner, 53, pleaded guilty in September 2019 to conspiracy and being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was sentenced in July 2020 to 15 years in prison.
As federal marshals escorted Vick -- masked, shackled and wearing jail scrubs -- into the courtroom, he gave a nod and small wave to more than a dozen family members and supporters. Periodically, as he and his attorney, Josh Hurst of Hot Springs, conferred, Vick would turn briefly to wave to one of his seated children or other family members.
Under federal statutes, Vick could have been sentenced to five to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million. Under federal sentencing guidelines -- which take into account the level of the offense and the defendant's criminal history, background and other factors -- the recommended sentencing range for Vick was 100 to 125 months in prison.
Noting Vick's past criminal history and the amount of cocaine he had admitted responsibility for -- 7.5 pounds to 11 pounds -- U.S. District Judge James M. Moody opted for a 115-month sentence to be followed by a term of four years on supervised release.
Hurst asked Moody to consider the minimum statutory sentence of five years in prison, pointing out Vick's difficult childhood, contrition, family responsibilities and stable work history.
"He has expressed a considerable amount of remorse and, actually, shame for the fact that he is where he is," Hurst said.
He noted that Vick's parents divorced when he was 2 years old, at which time his father left and never returned, which he said had a profound effect.
"There were times when he would wait at the door for his father to come home, and he had a hard time dealing with that," Hurst said. "That, unfortunately, has been a huge factor in his criminal history."
"I don't want to make up a lot of excuses for why I did what I did," Vick said. "I am very ashamed and remorseful, ... and I just want to apologize for the inconvenience to the court and to my family."
Composed at first, Vick suddenly convulsed with emotion as he told Moody about his mother's efforts.
"My mother," he said, breaking into tears and struggling through the rest of his statement, "she tried her best, I'm sorry, she did her best to raise me to be the man she wanted me to be, but I still, I just tried my best. ... I know y'all want me with y'all, but I've got to go do this time."
Regaining his composure, Vick asked his family to pray for him, then, voice shaking, asked Moody for leniency.
"If you can find it in your heart to give me the minimum, I guarantee you will not find me back in your court again," he concluded.
Unmoved, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters argued for the maximum guideline sentence, pointing out the wiretap that captured conversations between Garner and Vick over a period of just under four weeks.
"In the span of 25 days," she said, "he managed to purchase, distribute or broker between 3.5 and 5 kilograms of cocaine. So, three and a half weeks, that's how much dope he was able to move."
Peters said Vick was heard numerous times ordering several ounces of cocaine at a time from Garner.
"A nine-hour job, 9 ounces," she said, "and then he'll come back for another nine-hour job, or a four-and-a-half-hour job, 4.5 ounces, it's just striking how bold and frequent his requests for large quantities were and how fast he could move them."
Peters said Vick's criminal history included commercial burglary, terroristic threatening, possession of firearms by certain persons and a drug possession charge for PCP.
"I know this defendant says he is ashamed and remorseful, and he does appear to be ashamed and remorseful today," she said. "But there have been many past chances to be ashamed and remorseful, and it hasn't happened. ... Our position is hopefully this will be the last time he will have to be ashamed and remorseful, but before he gets out and gets another chance it's our position that 125 months will be the appropriate sentence."
As Vick was led out of the courtroom, he turned and blew a kiss toward his family members.
"Bye Jasper, we love you," one called out to him. Another asked, "what, he can't hug his mama?" to which the courtroom security officer responded, "no ma'am, it's not allowed." Then, Vick and his escorts disappeared from sight.