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Sex-trafficking trial delay OK'd

by Dale Ellis | May 29, 2021 at 3:17 a.m.

A Cross County man facing a possible life sentence in a sex-trafficking case successfully argued to have his jury trial, scheduled to begin Friday, delayed until October to give him time to make a fully informed decision on whether to plead guilty.

Arthur "Taz" Isom, 42, was in a hearing on Thursday before Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall in preparation to plead guilty to one couznt each of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking when Marshall indicated that the proceedings might not go as planned.

An early indication that things had gone off track was the presence of attorneys and probation office staff conferring in hushed tones in the hallway in front of the courtroom well after the appointed time for the hearing to begin had passed.

"The lawyers have told my staff that you are thinking about changing your plea which is why I've pushed your trial date back to [Friday] in anticipation of this hearing today," Marshall told Isom as proceedings got underway on Thursday. "It's my understanding though, that circumstances may have changed in the last little bit so I want to visit with counsel and we'll see where things stand."

Marshall then turned his attention to Isom's attorney, Toney Brasuell of Little Rock.

"It's a lawyer's life isn't it, with things constantly shifting and changing and you're trying to get your hands around them?" Marshall said.

"We were set for a change of plea today and we expected that would go through," Brasuell began. "Something popped up only minutes before when we entered your courtroom having to do with a possibility of a career offender issue. We tried to get that resolved before 1:30 but were not able to get a finite answer on whether or not it would be applicable in this case."

Isom, who is currently serving a four-year sentence for drug possession in the Arkansas Department of Corrections, has a history of drug offenses and misdemeanors dating back to 2012, according to court records from Cross and Pulaski counties. If he were to be sentenced as a career offender, his sentence would likely be more harsh under the U.S. sentencing guidelines than would otherwise be the case.

Those sentencing guidelines are determined with help from the findings of a presentence investigation report typically submitted by the office of probation and pretrial services following a plea or a verdict of guilty in a federal criminal case.

Brasuell asked Marshall for a continuance of Isom's jury trial and requested that the presentence investigation be conducted and the report submitted prior to his client making the decision of whether to change his plea so that Isom would have knowledge of his potential exposure prior to any plea decision.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Bragg told Marshall the government would not object to either request.

"The court was hopeful that this case, which is an older case, could be resolved today or at least mostly resolved with the guilt issues passing out of the case," Marshall said. "But I understand the development of last minute details."

Marshall granted the motion for a continuance and directed the probation and pretrial services office to commence work on the presentence investigation. He said the issue of a plea hearing would be given consideration following submission of the presentence report and ordered Isom's jury trial continued to Oct. 25.

Marshall ordered that Isom remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service until further notice.

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